Are NFL players as bad as they are portrayed?

I’ve spent my entire adult life around NFL players and I’ve had some real up’s and down’s with them. But 95% (over 150) of the players I have dealt with were very good people. Even some of those who have made some mistakes have turned their mishaps into positives. Johnny Jolly for example is one of those people. And as painful as some days were, I am happy to be a part of his turnaround story. That being said, there are a handful of players in the league I wouldn’t represent because I don’t think a second chance is going to change who they are.

In the last few days I’ve heard countless harsh comments about NFL players in general. I can personally tell you that by lumping all players into a single group because of the actions of a few is a mistake.

In my experience, 95% of all NFL players are pretty good people: You don’t see it, hear it or read about it but over 90% of all NFL players spend a lot of their time and resources giving back. You don’t hear about it because most don’t want the recognition in fear of being accused of tooting their own horn. The media could care less about covering it because it’s not sexy, dirty or controversial enough for them to garner profitable attention. 95% players I’ve been around are solid family guys who do a lot of good when nobody is looking.

Now keep in mind that an NFL team manages about 100 players per year per club. The “100” number comes from ALL players who have been on the roster either during the regular season or the 90 they carry in the offseason for almost six months. In addition there are several on injured-reserve and/or other football or non-football injuries list. So all in all, each team must sign and manage over 100 players per year.

Compare that to any company, business or entity that manages and hires employees (teachers, lawyers, tradesman, military personnel, performers, or politicians) and there will always be a percentage of some bad apples. My point is that no matter what type of safeguards and prescreening measures the NFL adopts, a small percentage of bad apples will get in the door. Just like they do any other business or entity.

To complicate things even more, NFL players have time, money, status and some fame at a very young age and no learned skill set to manage all that’s thrown at them.

I was talking to a player the other day who was telling me that “wow, you have to really grow up fast in this league”, as he was telling me about putting a life together in one weekend after being told he made the team. What most of us get to figure out over a long period of time, without millions of people watching everything we do, pro athletes get thrown into the fire without a manual. Now, I’m not making excuses for some horrible acts by some noted star players but my point is that as whole, NFL players on a percentage basis compared to the general population carry themselves fairly well considering their position.

What’s more is that a lot people throw darts at young athletes with no concept of what it’s like to have time, money and fame at the age of 22. I guarantee you that if you gave one million dollars to every 22 year old, that the majority of them would blow it at the same rate or faster than an NFL player would. Furthermore, give every 22 year old off work 3 months per year, some social status, drug test them and track their every social move, I guarantee you that the result would show that there will be a greater percentage of DUI’s, arrests, failed drug tests (especially marijuana), and social mishaps as compared to the NFL players.

So when a small percentage of NFL players do some really stupid and/or even horrendous acts, don’t tattoo all players as being similar to the ones read about. So far this year, of the estimated 3,200 players who are signed there have been about 30 arrests and/or charges against them. That’s less than 1% of all players.

Please keep in mind that Ray Rice, the man, and Adrian Peterson, the man, and the other accused of domestic violence probably would have done the same acts whether they were a schoolteacher, firemen, or a factory worker. So I highly doubt that NFL players are any worse than any other group in society.

The NFL is trying to figure who they are right now as a social compass, where the lines between personal and private lies, and what they can ask of their employees. In time, I believe they will get it right. They have to and they know it. Whether it’s because they are money motivated and don’t want to alienate fans and sponsors or because they truly care about the impact they can make on our society, they will get it right. Once again, they have to.

Its interesting that a few years ago Commissioner Goodell was known as the “Discipline Czar” and now everyone wants his head for not disciplining enough. And yes, he and the league screwed up big time on some of their recent disciplinary decisions. So they are learning that they aren’t qualified to be human resource directors, judges and/or counselors. They will be smart enough to hand that component over to those who are more qualified.

Going forward, the league needs to grow up on a lot of fronts. They need to hire the most qualified professionals they can find to set a new course for the league. They need to become more consistent in their disciplinary actions and start by getting the business people out of the human resources side of football. They need to raise the bar for themselves, the coaches and front office execs to be examples for the players and help them handle their professional and personal lives. So be patient, but continue to voice your concerns and remember that it will never be perfect and they won’t weed out all the potential offenders and things should get a lot better sooner than later.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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