On Tuesday, we discussed the value of having a ‘champion,’ or someone of influence in football who’s willing to go bat for you, even though he gains nothing from it. There’s a corollary to that, and here it is: Don’t intentionally piss off someone who might even be the slightest bit of help to you.
Case in point. There’s a school not too far from me that I’ve reached out to in the past 12-18 months, volunteering my help any time they might need me, and offering to give a hungry intern a chance to earn class credit while having a little fun along the way. The professors I’ve worked with at this school have been absolutely first class in every way, and have exceeded expectations. One’s even become a pretty good friend, and at the very least, someone I respect. That’s why when he contacted me earlier this summer with a possible intern, I was pretty excited. My consulting service, Inside the League, is growing in traction and starting to outpace our fledgling staff, and I’m always looking for a young gun who could, in time, be a foundation member.
The young man contacted me via email and seemed nice enough, and genuine, but a little dubious about what ITL does, which is understandable; I often joke that not even my wife can explain what I do. I tried to be as explicit as I could and make it clear that we are still a growing service, far from a finished product, and occupying a niche in the industry. He continued to express hesitancy over the course of a week as we exchanged emails in short bursts: me, replying to one of his, then waiting a couple days to hear back, then him responding with questions, me emailing back immediately, then another lull. Again, understandable. I realize that I’m not getting swamped with potential interns, and this is an unpaid internship we’re talking about. And life happens, after all.
However, after a suitable period, I was ready to move forward or move on, so I emailed him again, trying to be welcoming and trying to convey an earnest interest in him without coming across as impatient. “Can’t remember where we left things but I wanted to see if you had made a decision, or if you still needed time, or were leaning against working with ITL. Any thoughts?,” I asked in a well-meaning but direct way.
About three hours later, I got my answer. He indicated that, “right now,” he was “leaning toward working with (my) company” (still not the decisiveness I was looking for, but fair enough). He asked a few questions about whether or not he could work from home (also very understandable), and if he could in fact go home for the summer (certainly within bounds), and then threw his, probably unintentional, haymaker.
Now, before I let on what this blow was, a few thoughts.
One, in a world brimming with ‘draft gurus,’ it’s really hard to understand what ITL is and isn’t, and what we are not is another draft prognostication service. We have a very small — very small — series in the summer that takes a preliminary look at draft projections for seniors at all FBS schools, but everyone understands that these projections are written in pencil, and with an eraser the size of a toddler’s fist.
Two, I think there’s a very good chance he didn’t mean to sound as dismissive and condescending as he sounded.
Three, email is an impossibly bad forum for discerning intent. All of these things I know.
Still, he closed his email with this: “I also had a few questions on where the information on the site is derived. I couldn’t help but look at the projections for Craig Loston and notice that his projected round was the first yet he signed as an undrafted free agent.”
I probably should have explained that predicting the draft is impossibly hard to do a year out. That we don’t claim to be draft gurus in any case. That every year the two services that project seniors for subscribing NFL teams have a couple players they rate as first-rounders that wind up as undrafted free agents. I probably should have responded with all of this. But instead my response was this: “I appreciate your interest but I think we need to go in a different direction. Have a wonderful evening and best of luck in future endeavors.” For what it’s worth, when I close an email with “good luck in future endeavors,” it’s my literary equivalent of this.
Look, I know that on the universe’s list of most powerful people in the NFL, I don’t show up in the first, well, billion. And for what it’s worth, the young man immediately wrote me an email apologizing if he said anything offensive, and I’m sure he’s genuine. However, what I will say is that the football world is a small one, and if you’re aspiring to be part of it, make sure — make really sure — make really, really, REALLY sure — that you won’t be misinterpreted as smug, or all-knowing, or dismissive. It just doesn’t look good on anybody, and you never know what seemingly hapless opportunity might be your big break.
Be conscientious. Make sure that if you ever make one mistake, it’s not that you were not conscientious. Never, ever let someone even think you were too good for them. There are only so many times you’re going to get to go to bat in this game, so make sure every plate appearance, you’re at your best.