Retooling NFL front offices

Here are a few facts: NFL front office people don’t ask players what they are doing in the privacy of their home. Adrian Peterson was considered a perfect role model by just about everyone in and out of the NFL. Ray Rice is sincerely loved by the Ravens front office people including the owner (and their wives), even after everything they’ve been dragged through because of his actions. My point is that many star players weren’t/aren’t considered as being “at risk” employees for criminal behavior. The only safeguards that may have prevented both the Rice and Peterson incidents are continued education for proper social behavior. However, who knows if it would have had any impact whatsoever.

Regardless, the NFL along with each team, are going to have to retool their front offices to minimalize any further embarrassments. The focus will be on player education programs, counseling, and identifying players at risk for criminal behavior. This will be a real positive for the NFL and its clubs in the long run.

In addition to supporting and educating players, the NFL also has to educate its team leaders (GM, head coach, VP of player development, security directors, and even the PR directors).

While meeting with two very highly placed NFL executives last week, I proposed this question: How many GMs, player development directors, public relations directors and team security directors are equipped to spot and/or manage personal player crises? These two execs have two different roles and about fifty plus years of combined experience working for the NFL. Each of them has a different title of the jobs I mention above.

Answer from exec #1: “Only about one third of these professionals have the skill set and experience to handle crises (like the Rice and/or Adrian Peterson issues). Exec #2 gave a similar answer and thought the percentage is probably a bit less and closer to 20%.

If NFL front offices don’t have the professionals in place to handle these crises, they probably don’t have individuals in place who can potentially prevent/spot issues before they happen and can think five moves ahead to minimalize fallout from criminal, embarrassing, and/or any negative employee (coaches, execs, players) behavior. In addition, team decision-making is always motivated by a “win right now” philosophy. Therefore, teams have built in conflicts of interest in policing themselves.

Some teams do have incredible people in their building. I’ve met several of these people and have been very impressed by them as have been my players. But the fact is that owners have to spend more money to bring in more qualified people. Additionally, players should be required to take part in more ongoing education as part of their contract. In many businesses such as law, insurance, financial consulting, nursing, teaching, sales, or law enforcement, these professionals are required to have ongoing education covering topics such as ethics, personal behavior, and industry specific proficiency.

Here is a quick breakdown of the backgrounds of most NFL front office execs. As agents we have to deal with each one of these team professionals:

General Manager: Most are former scouts, not human resource directors. Most have likely never left a college or pro football environment. If they didn’t come from scouting they came from in-house legal or the salary cap side. However, with the exception of just a few, none of them have worked in corporate environments or in real world law.

Player Development: The majority of the men who fill this position are former players that were well behaved, trusted and did all the right things as players. Not too many Chris Carter types fill this position.

Public Relations: Can you name the PR director for your team? Probably not, because many of them don’t take the lead in crisis management. That job usually is left to the head coach. NFL teams have been habitually secretive for so long that these guys are afraid to say anything that might piss off their owner, head coach, GM and/or star player(s). Most of their jobs have morphed in to community relationship liaisons. Many are just toothless lions because the coaches overshadow their work.

Team Security: The majority of NFL security people are usually former police officers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because they usually know the community very well. However, while they have to be very reactive handling team DUIs, physical altercations such as a few bar fights, and stadium security, they have little time and qualifications to create player programs, educate, and be proactive in working hard to identify at risk players. Decades ago local retired police officers were hired because they were good at making things go away and disappear.

Head Coach: The head coach has a very difficult job to do in policing his players. On one hand, he is paid to win and only has job security by doing so. On the other hand, if he doesn’t give players a second chance when they screw up, and stand behind them in their time of need, he risks losing the respect of the players and losing games by disciplining his star players. He is truly conflicted.

Playing, managing, and coaching in the NFL is truly a privilege. The league needs to come up with a balanced plan of education, discipline and uniformed steps for a second chance. You don’t ban a player without help for two years because he has an addiction to codeine, and then give another player only two games for assaulting his fiancee. In addition, you don’t let football people make human resource policies and decisions they aren’t qualified to make in the first place.

It’s not just the players who have to grow up but the league as a whole has to step it up, spend the money and owners have to take responsibility to hire the best qualified professionals to create a professional mature environment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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