Tonight is a night that many sports fans including myself look forward to each year. Maybe it’s because I grew up near Detroit and thus as a Lion’s fan, the NFL Draft is one of the only times of the year that we can be hopeful! Or maybe it’s because we as fans love the strategy and mix and match team building that is at the forefront tonight and throughout free agency – a fondness that has built a billion-dollar fantasy sports industry. Perhaps there’s even some piece of non-cynical humanity left in us that loves seeing kids achieve their dreams and hearing their back stories as they walk across that stage and into millions of dollars, fame, and an awkward hug with Roger Godell.
It’s very clear that this whole draft process has become an institution in our sports society and it supports the mythology that we have built up around our sports. We crave new heroes on our teams and like to think of this night as the culmination of hard work and determination from some of our best young people – and yes, kids, if you work hard and really believe, you could one day reach this level too…That’s the aura and some of it is true, some of it is false, and all of it is embellished for various purposes and motivations, some good and some bad. But that’s a much broader issue that we here at More Than Wins try to explore every day. The question I want to ask today is why do we simply accept the concept of a draft as normal?
Go on think about it…What other career path says to its potential employees, “we are going to completely remove your freedom to choose which company you work for, where you live, and for a time, your ability to negotiate the best rate of pay for your services”? Sure, every industry has its framework and potential employees don’t get to choose everything if they want to work in that industry, but the way entry into pro sports works in this country is astounding when you really look at it. It’s easy to brush off the lack of freedom and choice for these players because they will make more money in a season than many of us will make in a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t strange in that it runs counter to our free market, capitalist values.
Imagine this; a young man, let’s call him Chad, is about to graduate from college with a teaching degree. In the last semester of his senior year of college, he goes from interview to interview and even does some teaching demonstrations for hundreds of superintendents and principals. Then on one night a week before graduation he sits and waits to hear what school district drafted him to teach for them. The district could be anywhere in the country and his pay rate would be determined entirely by what order he was picked from among his peers. If Chad doesn’t like the location or the community, he won’t be able to accept an offer from another district. If he doesn’t like the salary offer, that’s too bad. He isn’t allowed to accept a better offer from another district who was willing to offer him more because the district that drafted him OWNS HIS RIGHTS…It sounds crazy, right? But we as sports fans readily accept this style of entry into the workforce as NORMAL because it’s always been done that way in professional sports.
I’m not even saying it’s right or wrong, but it is a strange system that we blindly accept as normal without really thinking of how much it flies in the face of traditional American values. I’m shocked that the players unions haven’t fought harder for universal free agency, but unions are run by veterans, not rookies…
As strange as the concept of a professional draft is, I will be watching and projecting and hoping my team takes the players I want. It will serve as great fodder for conversation over drinks with friends and offer a nice distraction from the toils of life. Those things are without doubt beneficial and healthy for a society. So, while I may roll my eyes at the absurdity of it all, I’m going to enjoy it as I do every year!