On Monday, I was talking to a financial advisor who’s new to the business, but not new to football. In fact, he’s an NFL veteran who played at a school known not only for abundant talent but flashy players.
We were talking about the next couple months and how to approach potential clients, balancing the excitement of a career in the NFL with the sobriety that’s necessary when you suddenly come into a windfall of cash. Paraphrasing my friend, he expressed frustration with what’s ahead. “It’s just so hard,” he said. “It’s the life.”
The Life. It’s the gigantic hidden elephant that no one talks about these days when discussing the problems that face young players.
How do you caution a young player to save his money when the guy in the next locker is bragging about the shiny new car he just bought? How do you pull in the reins on a kid who’s former teammates are posting pictures of wild parties in splashy hotels on Instagram? When he’s been worshipped all his life for his athletic prowess, how do you counsel a young man that there won’t always be a happy ending, especially when it comes to money?
It’s a question that everyone in the game must answer. In fact, I’d argue that scouts have two questions to answer of each player they evaluate. No. 1: Can they play? No. 2: Do they love the game, or do they love the life?
This question has become particularly relevant this week as we’ve seen the Browns try a new tack and go all-out for analytics. Unlike baseball, football is a game where emotion and personality come into play far more than in baseball, a game that demands more consistency and less explosiveness.
Kudos to the Browns for trying something new, though there will be no shortage of critics if things don’t work out. To me, the success of their analytics approach will hinge on whether or not they can find an algorhithm that measures a player’s temperament and psychology equal to his tendencies on the field. Because whether it’s what takes place between the lines or in the places where players go afterwards, the life of an NFL player is more volatile, more electric, more unpredictable than most analysts can handle.