As the 2015 NFL Draft draws near, we have reached the point where media is so starved for new news that nothing escapes the attention of the pundits.
So it should come as no surprise that some folks reacted negatively to the decision of Jameis Winston to not attend the draft in Chicago. He’s not alone as Marcus Mariota has also declined an invite, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Now, let’s move past the obvious question as to why people are giving Winston hell for not going but not pulling out their hair over Mariota skipping it, and get to the heart of the matter—does this really matter?
Is this really a sign of anything?
I’d say no. The fact that it’s a big deal is somewhat understandable, but it’s also ridiculous to try and wrap in some sort of conspiracy, cowardice or character concerns to the decision.
We’ve seen guys who were invited and expected to go in the first round decide to do something else with their time. Joe Thomas comes to mind, as he chose to go fishing instead of head to the draft, finding out he was taken by the Cleveland Browns third overall via cell phone, probably while trying to reel in General Sherman.
Somehow the world didn’t end either.
Now, of course even the best tackle—or a superhuman Hall of Fame worthy tackle—isn’t a quarterback when it comes to the NFL Draft, and the spotlight on those players will always be less than the best quarterbacks.
So that’s certainly a reason why this has caused a stir—we expect the future ‘face of the franchise’ to show up and be that guy immediately.
There’s also the sticky aspect of Winston’s off-the-field issues, most notably the alleged rape of a young woman. People want to see (as in the article linked near the top of this piece) Winston and the NFL as dodging bad press and hard questions.
Now, I’m not much for wearing tinfoil or believing the conspiracy theories and this one doesn’t work for me as well. First of all, do we really think the league—which continues to be hugely tone-deaf when it comes to rape, domestic violence, drugs and virtually every other off-the-field issue—took this moment to take a stand? That they really looked at Winston—who, right or wrong ended up exonerated—and said ‘no, THIS is too much?’
As for Winston, he says he stayed to be with family, particularly his grandmother who cannot easily travel. Now, does that mean the extra press and questions didn’t factor at all into his decision? Not at all—just that it’s likely that a guy who has been answering these questions over and over again already probably isn’t staying home just to dodge the press.
Press he has to face when he shows up at Tampa Bay—or whomever selects him—the day after.
So no, I don’t particular read any grand design or machinations here. The only thing I do sense is narrative—the narrative of a media which has in some cases already made their decision about Winston.
For what it’s worth, I don’t know the man and haven’t talked to him. I’m concerned with his off-the-field issues, especially the rape allegations, and it gives me pause. He’s talented on the field—I am concerned about him off it.
I don’t think he’s dodging me when I head to Chicago later this month though.
Neither is Mariota as far as I am concerned, and given the occasional talk that he could slip quite a bit on draft day, it
isn’t insane that he chose not the be there as well.
Is there anything more painful than watching a guy people thought could go in the top two or three picks drop towards the bottom—or maybe even out—of the first round? It was tough to watch with Aaron Rodgers, tough to watch with Brady Quinn and tough to watch with Geno Smith.
It’s even tougher on the players.
So nobody can blame Mariota for not wanting to risk that, even under the guise of feeling that being home in Hawaii is ‘personally and culturally’ important, per Schefter again.
Is it disappointing that two potential top picks aren’t going to Chicago? Absolutely. As someone who has covered the draft in person for five years, I want all the players I can get to be there so I can talk to them. I know how exciting the event is for players, and so I think both Mariota and Winston are missing out as well. And I think it was important for the NFL to get as many players as possible to Chicago, since it is the first time they have had the event outside of New York City and they want it to be a success.
All that aside though, it’s really not a big deal. So they chose to stay home, for whatever reason. They’ll be in front of the cameras and then in front of reporters soon enough. Fans will meet them and we’ll get to know them all as NFL players in the coming years.
It’s not a sign of character, not a sign of foolishness, not the end of the world.
It’s just unusual. And that’s fine.
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