Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff recently announced in a press conference the team isn’t looking for angels in the upcoming NFL draft. This was refreshing, although he did use the same press conference to reassure people that character was an important consideration as well.
I say although because NFL leadership likes to portray the league as considering character one of the most important qualities they look for in players. This isn’t so and Dimitroff tells us the truth, for once.
The league makes noise about the character of athletes because so many fans claim it is an important consideration. The fans are as hypocritical as the league. I’m sure a few people decided to stop following the Falcons because of Michael Vick and his well-publicized legal issues. However, far more people abandon the team when it isn’t winning games. That’s reality. The team knows it, the league knows it, and fans know it.
Winning is the most important thing in the NFL and the best athletes make that happen. If the team is mired in a terrible losing streak, there are enormous financial considerations.
Both fans and the league in general are deeply immersed in this hypocrisy. Fans complain all the time about an athlete who has some form or moral or legal failing. Spousal abuse, drunk driving, assault, rape, and drug use, are the sorts of crimes athletes are guilty of committing.
What Dimitroff is telling us, in a brief moment of honesty, is if player can help the team win games, these sorts of crimes don’t really matter all that much. They matter if the athlete in question is going to end up in jail, that must be taken into account because, of course, the player cannot help the team while in prison.
The reality is, and we all know it, if a player can help the team on the field, it’s easy enough to give a troubled youth a second chance. The evaluation includes character, that much is true. The better the player is at her or his sport, the less her or his character matters. A player who isn’t good enough to make a major impact on the Falcons might have minor character flaws and thus be passed over in the draft. A player with tremendous talent and the same character flaws is drafted, given guidance, and likely multiple chances.
Eventually even the finest player can behave in such a way as to be kicked off the team, but the ethical and legal bar is far lower in these cases.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should stop kidding ourselves. We should admit, like Dimitroff, that athletic ability is the most important consideration when building a team. It’s the self-deception that bothers me. Not just by the various leagues and teams but the fans themselves. The fans care far more about winning than the failings of a particular player.
By Tom Liberman
Tom Liberman is a rather ordinary fellow who enjoys spending time with his great family and wonderful friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time.