For the past two years, I have penned an Open Letter to NFL Draftees that has been well received. So, with the 2011 NFL Draft just days away, I believe it is once again time to remind our next generation of gridiron superstars what’s most important to focus on as they await that phone call from the front office of the team asking them how they feel about being a (insert name of NFL franchise here).
Well, it’s almost here. The big weekend. To date, perhaps the biggest one in the twenty-something years you’ve been on this planet. This will be a life-changing weekend for you and your families. It’s here and it’s the NFL Draft. And you are on the big board, son.
You are going to hear a lot of things from a lot of people over the course of the next few days. Many from people you don’t know. Then, sometime between Thursday and Saturday you may hear your name called. You may not. You may go in the early rounds. You may not go at all.
You will hear a lot of things about yourself in the media, some positive, some less favorable. Expectations. Hype. Are you a “can’t miss?" Why you are falling in the draft? Opinions. Criticisms. And more.
Fans will cheer with your selection. Fans will boo with your selection. You will hear sports pundits across the nation declaring you are everything from the next greatest whatever to, “I cannot understand why they drafted an unproven commodity with that pick!” And best believe you’re going to hear Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay face off at length on ESPN arguing the finer points of when you should/if you should/and where you should go in the draft.
Media and front offices alike will talk about your personality, your skill set, your background, your life, your college career, your NFL expectations, and your character. That’s right, your character.
Let’s stop here for a moment, because this is perhaps THE most important and defining aspect of what opportunities will await you both during and after your playing days.
Issues surrounding character and personal conduct have the potential to derail a promising career, and in Roger Goodell’s NFL (lockout or not), it is no secret what will happen to you if you violate the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy
. Across the sports world, we have all witnessed how the mighty have fallen due to poor decision making ability and bad crisis management. So please understand, your success is not entirely predicated on your ability to make plays. It ultimately comes down to what type of person you are both on and off the field and you need to understand what is expected of you.
Whether you agree with it or not, you are a role model to others. Your family, your friends, and children in this country and around the world look to elite athletes because of the special talent you have. So remember, to whom much is given, much is expected. That is reality and you have to accept it.
It’s fine to take care of your families and yourself, but be smart about it.
As you transition into your new life and lifestyle, keep the following in mind:
1. Your talent makes you special on the field but it does not make you better than other people. It will afford you many luxuries, but it is not a license to “wild out.” It does not put you above the law. Your life is officially under the microscope and the world is going to watch you grow up, wait for you to screw up, and see how you will react. Look, you’re going to make mistakes. The pressure is going to be tremendous. But if you limit your mistakes to what you do on the field, what you do off of it will enhance your ability to create a post-NFL career while you are in the league.
2. Kill the entourages and eliminate ALL distractions. Don’t assign titles and give jobs to people who have no experience in this arena. I’m not saying cut your crew or cut your boys loose, but make sure they add value to the equation—YOUR equation. You are the sum of the parts here. Build a strong, solid team around you—lawyer, agent, strategic PR/communications team, marketing representative, financial manager, sports psychologist, etc. Trust me, the money you will pay to have solid people in your circle of trust protecting your name and brand, and working in lockstep as a unit, is nothing compared to the amount you will lose if you screw it up.
3. Think about the financial and social mistakes made by other athletes that cost them their fortune, fame and/or freedom. With each passing year, we hear the tale of another superstar who lost millions in endorsements and salary, prison sentences, financial ruin, social embarrassment, and the untold and often permanent damage to their reputations. Don’t be that guy. You’ve seen the mistakes. You know what they are. You’re a smart guy, so don’t make them.
4. Stop focusing on the bling, the cars, the homes, the toys, the women, the excess. It’s fine to have a few things, but be smart about it. You do not want to end up like so many others before you when your playing days are over. Enjoy the moment, but start focusing on the future.
5. Understand we see this every day in our line of work and no one is immune. You see, one of the most important aspects of what we do for a living is reputation management and crisis communication. Avoid the pitfalls by being prepared with a solid plan and team in place. And remember, one of the best ways to make sure you keep your reputation intact is simple—do the right thing—all the time.
Gentlemen, this is your career. This is your future. So take the reputation management component as seriously as the on-the-field aspects of your game. Prepare, focus, and eliminate the distractions. You don’t mess around making sure you are prepared to play the game on the field, so don’t play games with your reputation off of it. It’s not worth losing everything you’ve worked for your entire life because it can come crashing down in a matter of minutes.
Good luck this weekend. If you get the opportunity, make it count.