This week, a tweet about the vapidness of NFL draft hype got me thinking about how we all spend January through April. Ironically, it came from a draft pundit. You might be surprised to learn that I find the NFL draft a little painful. Well, not the draft itself, but its coverage.
It’s troublesome to me that every year, for 4-5 months, football fandom buys into the incessant praise of players who haven’t even set foot on an NFL field yet. What’s truly irksome, however, is the parade of draft pundits who make pronouncements on players or teams with no accountability. How do people become famous by making a serious of statements that include ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if’ or ‘it’s possible that’ or ‘it’s likely that,’ etc.? It got me thinking about how we got here.
Thirty years ago or so, a few teams started trying to bring scouting into the 20th century, so they agreed to get together and have players work out at a central location. It was around this time that ESPN, which didn’t have a lot of live sports coverage (outside of tractor pulls and Australian Rules Football), decided to broadcast the draft. They tried several people as pundits (Joel Buchsbaum was lousy on camera, while Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman got into an on-air fight with a fellow broadcaster) before settling on little-known Mel Kiper Jr. This was long before draft news was anything anyone cared about.
Brick by brick, the game of football grew in popularity, and the combine progressed as well. Then the Internet was invented, and soon, every fan could find someone with news, opinion, or both on the draft. Those fans could also express their own opinions, first through blogs and newsgroups, and then by Twitter and other social media platforms. These days, we have not one but two major networks (ESPN and the NFL Network) going pick by pick through the draft, and we have play-by-play dissection of practices at the major all-star games, as well as up-close coverage during the combine. I guess, to some degree, NFL draft coverage has been the perfect marriage of technology and the nation’s obsession with pro football, and that’s great. But something about the way it’s packaged and over-produced drives me crazy.
I know my aggravation with all of this puts me in the minority. I guess, at the end of the day, I don’t see this as entertainment, and don’t think it should be treated that way. You always read these stories about how ‘football is just a game’ and ‘when (some crazy illness or death) happens, it really puts football in perspective,’ but really, that’s not true.
For the fan, the NFL is just a game, a way to put aside the world and escape. But tell that to the player from a poor background trying to reset the course of his family’s life. Tell that to the scouts that have never done anything else in their professional lives, then get fired due to a GM change or belt-tightening. Tell that to the coaches who get their lives torn apart on social media because their teams didn’t win enough games to satisfy fans’ bloodlust.
There’s a lot of money in football, but that doesn’t mean everyone in it spends all their time rolling around in cash. In fact, most of them spend 10-12 hours working hard to keep their jobs, and the other half of the day worrying about what happens if they don’t. This game is fun, but it’s also deadly serious.