With talk radio and the blogs and the NFLPA criticizing Dolphins G.M. Jeff Ireland for asking the question that, with a little help, could become the new “that’s what she said,” a former member of the team is now speaking out in Ireland’s defense.
“It’s important to keep in mind the context of these interviews, the
prospect of guaranteeing a 22-year-old stranger millions of dollars to
enter one of the most competitive, intolerant and insensitive
professional work environments around,” Konrad wrote to Ethan Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I’m not attempting to defend the
question asked, but rather the person and the process. Having been
through those interviews, in the locker room and on the field, I can
tell you that the work environment in the NFL is unique, one that would
be unacceptable in virtually any other industry. The questions asked by
teams in pre-draft interviews usually have the dual purpose of getting
to know the player and testing their mindset.”
In this regard, Konrad is right. With players polished up by their consultants and handlers, teams need to find out how they’ll react under the stress of the game — in sort of the same way that the military needs to see what may come out of a guy if/when he finds himself in battle.
Konrad wrote about his own experiences in this regard, as he was preparing to enter the NFL. “When I was coming out of Syracuse University, I remember being asked ‘if I thought I could succeed as a white running back in the NFL?’ and ‘why I thought a kid who attended a suburban Massachusetts private high
school was tough enough to play in the NFL?'” Konrad said. “If one were interviewing a
prospective executive for private industry, this line of questioning
likely wouldn’t be acceptable.”
Again, Konrad is right. Such questions in other settings would be used a proof of illegal bias based on race. In pro football, such questions are aimed at getting to the root of a guy’s character, in the hopes of predicting how he’ll act when facing stressful situations in practice, in the locker room, or in a game.
And so while most agree that Ireland’s question to Bryant crossed the line, it will be difficult if not impossible to determine where the line resides — and even harder to ensure that teams consistently will stay on the right side of it. Eventually, NFL players will have to put up with verbal abuse, either from teammates or from opponents. If teams aren’t permitted to simulate the verbal abuse during the pre-draft process, teams won’t be able to make the best possible decisions regarding whether the players to whom they’ll be paying big money will be able to function properly when faced with those situations at a time when it’s too late to pick someone else instead.