For War Story Thursday (since we missed Wednesday), a brief story about draft info and where it comes from (and why).
In the days before Inside the League in the early ’00s, I was able to befriend an NFL GM, and we spoke occasionally. He was amazingly forthright and always spoke openly, which I appreciated. At the time (as now), I was thoroughly interested in how information flowed through the league. Why would an NFL scout risk his highly coveted, hard-to-replace job to tell a beat writer who the team liked in the middle rounds, or even in the early rounds? The GM was succinct.
“I spent some time in the media doing broadcast work between jobs, and I saw that media-friendly GMs and scouting directors always got friendly treatment in return,” he said, as I recall. “It’s a quid pro quo relationship. If you give a reporter good inside scoop, he’ll take care of you when times are tough.”
He added that, most of the time, information that’s coming from the bigger media personalities and better-known ‘draft gurus’ was coming from director types, not road scouts. Directors were the ones that benefited from media exposure and the ones who regularly dealt with beat writers.
In succeeding years, it was fascinating to watch him live this out. This GM became one of the most media-friendly, if not the most media-friendly, NFL officials in the game. I knew a writer who tells a story about being on the golf course when the GM’s team signed its first-rounder, and he got a ring on his cell phone. It was the GM, and while the writer stood on the 15th hole, the GM spelled out in detail the terms of the contract while my friend scribbled madly on his score card. This was an unsolicited call, mind you. That’s a GM who’s eager to stay on writers’ good sides.
I got another dose of reality today when I was chatting with a longtime member of the scouting community who’s now between jobs. During our conversation, he mentioned a current NFL head coach and how much he respected his work ethic and smarts before his voice trailed off. I could tell there were things he’d left unsaid, so I asked him what he didn’t like about the coach.
“He thinks about his career first,” he said. “He’s always talking to the media. That’s why he has his job now, why he got a head coaching position. He’d been feeding the media for years and it paid off.”
I could tell you dozens more stories in this vein, from how agents control information release to how NFL officials have benefited from cozy relationships with people on the representation or media side.
The media can be a fickle beast. Writers will turn on you in an instant if the wind changes direction. Still, if you apply your instincts to the information you read and track it back to who benefits from its release, you can usually figure out where it came from. That’s one of the most important traits you can have as a member of the business. If you don’t already think about where draft info comes from when you read it, change how you read. It will serve you well in your career.