With the NFL placing pandemic-driven restrictions on the 2022 Scouting Combine, plenty of top prospects are expected to choose not to participate in on-field workouts. Those players have the full support of the union they’ll eventually join.
“We have spoken to several agents to reinforce our long standing opposition to the NFL Scouting Combine and agree and support the decisions by those to not attend,” the NFL Players Association said in an email sent to all agents on Sunday. “The combination of the NFL’s proposed ‘bubble’ and the fact that we still have an antiquated system of every team doctor examining players and having them perform yet again needs serious modification or elimination. While we do not represent these players we have advocated for their rights to fair treatment. Our union has always encouraged players to take control of their careers from the very beginning and we appreciate that agents are looking at ways to support that goal.”
The main purpose of the Scouting Combine is to gather all players for a thorough and comprehensive medical evaluation. It has grown into a made-for-NFL-Owned-TV event that fills the no-football void of late February and/or early March. Plenty of media members, consciously or not, add to the pressure on players to choose to provide free services to the NFL under the guise of “competition” and/or regarding it all as part of a normal job interview.
It’s not normal. And players have every right to say, “I’m done working for free. Draft me or risk having one of your competitors do it.”
But that kind of independent thinking/business judgment is frowned upon in an industry that wants the players to behave like robots, never questioning and always submitting to whatever the coach, the team, the league wants them to do.
The problem is that the players have strong competitive instincts. Unless they know they’ll be taken among the first players to be drafted, they’ll fear that someone else will choose to participate and leapfrog them. Plus, there’s a risk that if someone pushes back against Big Shield, Big Shield will retaliate, somehow.
It’s unfortunate that the incoming players have no collective protection. The NFL uses their desire to be selected as early as possible (and paid as much as possible) against them, cajoling them into doing more and more and more under the guise of eventually getting paid. Even as the NFL profits from their decision to participate, through the revenue generated by televising the Underwear Olympics for football-starved fans who are trying to find reasons to be hopeful about the prospects of their favorite teams.
Yes, they eventually get paid. That doesn’t make the current system right. And since the NFL benefits from the current system, it won’t change it without a fight. The problem is that there’s no real fight to be had, no real battle to be joined.
And, yes, this is an example of the perspective of Playmakers, which breaks down the many things the NFL does and how those things can be done in a way that is more fair to the men who are the ones who suit up and play the game, taking the short- and long-term physical risks inherent to putting on a show that compels millions from September through the Super Bowl.
The NFL does many things well. In other areas, it needs to improve. In certain specific contexts, like this one, what’s good for the NFL isn’t good for others. As long as those things are good for the NFL, they won’t be changing any time soon, if ever.