Friday, February 26, 2016

Missing the Target?

Writing at Bleacher Report, Mike Freeman offers statements from several National Football League team representatives that they won't again be "fooled" as they were when Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel interviewed during the 2014 NFL Combine.

Manziel had enormous upsides on the football field during his career with Texas A&M University, but he has since proven an off-field headache because of run-ins with law enforcement, bad behavior at bars and allegations of domestic violence. There had been hints of problematic behavior while Manziel was in College Station, but the NFL reps Freeman quotes say that his interviews and statements at the Combine allayed concerns. Now many of those people say they were fooled by Manziel, and have taken steps to reduce the risk of bringing on talented players with downsides that outweigh their virtues.

I think it's hard to say that any efforts will really make that much difference when a top-level performer comes a-dazzlin'. Some teams, as Freeman notes, will not care. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, for whatever reason, the Oakland Raiders acquired a reputation as a particularly rowdy bunch, and their organizational chart was said to include their own parole officer. It helped lend them an image, whether there was substance or not to the idea that the Raiders were any wilder than any other group of young men with fame and lots of money.

But others will at least want to care, if for no other reason than Roger Goodell might hit one of his stopped-clock moments and drop a significant and deserved hammer on some miscreant or another. And some -- maybe even most -- NFL offices are staffed by decent people who want to care because they prefer their product to come from decent people as well.

Even those people, though, will probably want to believe the best of a young man who says the problems of his past will remain there; he's not bringing any baggage to camp except a gym duffel. Who wouldn't? And many young people make mistakes that they don't make again, and experience functions as it ought by teaching them better ways of handling problems or conducting themselves. Many others want to change, even if the steps needed to do so prove beyond them.

Fame and notoriety are great enablers of misconduct. Just about every human being spends the first two years or so of his or her life being the center of the universe, with every need and whim met at the drop of a howl, and the remainder of that life learning that the opposite is true. Few of us master that concept, and the catering that comes with fame slows the process if it doesn't actually stop it. Athletes are vulnerable, of course, but so are teachers and my own profession of clergy (being the only one in the room who already knows the answers while everyone else in the room is required to listen attentively can help one find oneself self-exalted in the extreme).

I wonder if the best answer for teams that are worried about sending millions of dollars into the pockets of an on-field savior and off-field millstone is to try to spot the faker. Maybe it could be to try to teach him (or her) instead. That might be the harder road. It might even be impossible. But you'd hope it would be worth the try.

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