I had a couple of experiences this weekend that really underlined the passion of young athletes trying to live their football dreams, but also the confusion that surrounds such pursuits. The irony is that young men trying to star on football fields as players face almost the same odds as those seeking to ‘star’ off the field as scouts, agents, or executives in the game. Both of this weekend’s experiences involved the Arena Football League.

  • On Sunday, I attended an open tryout for the AFL’s Los Angeles Kiss in Southeast Houston. Around 100 young men showed up, with about half of them walk-ups, i.e., they weren’t even sure they wanted to work out until Sunday. Some were drinking beer in the parking lot before the workout. That didn’t stop their wives, girlfriends, kids, parents, and friends from filling the bleachers for the tryout, which cost $80 in advance/$95 day of tryout (cash only). There were probably as many people watching as there were trying out. I often wonder if the players attending these tryouts know what’s ahead of them if they make it. Most of these players make around $700/game and have their apartments and food taken care of. Their personnel director told me today that none were offered contracts, but about four were good enough that they may be offered a chance to come to L.A. to work out with the team at some point. They won’t be offered a contract; they’ll just have their expenses covered while they remain in AFL limbo, hoping to be put on the roster. Think about that; the number of players who might get a chance to play in the AFL off that tryout was about four percent, and those players will only get a chance to play, with no guarantees. Yet their loved ones were there on Sunday with their phones out, filming every sprint and every jump, and probably holding out hope that their player would get ‘discovered.’
  • The previous day, I had gotten a call from a good friend. He’s a great guy and his family is close to mine. He has become friends with a young man who played some college football at various small-school stops and even took part in a number of indoor football games over the past 18 months or so. My friend has taken a paternal interest in him, and really believes in the young man’s athleticism and chance to play in the NFL someday. At any rate, the young man attended an AFL workout in New Orleans on Saturday, and apparently drew a little interest from a team official, though it wasn’t enough for him to be offered a contract. At any rate, my friend was calling because he hoped I would be able to get the young man a tryout with the Texans. My initial reaction was to chuckle and insist that I’m not nearly as connected as my friend thinks I am. My second reaction, however, was to caution him that the young man is still almost as far away from his NFL dreams as he was before the tryout in New Orleans. I told my friend, in fact, that he would have to stick out so much at that tryout that even a toddler would call him a stone-cold baller if he were indeed an NFL talent. I’d even go so far as to say my friend needs to encourage the young man to get on with his life rather than continuing to pour time, money and effort into NFL pursuits.

Though both of these anecdotes provide a dose of gravity to the process and are perhaps heavy on desperation, you can’t fault these players’ desire. You need to have no less a drive to succeed in football if your goal is to work in the business.