The National Football League has managed to turn what was once just a gateway to the realm of professional football into one of the most anticipated events in American sports.
Fans from all across the country gather around their television sets in hopes of seeing their team select the next big star each year, and the 2015 NFL Draft will be no different.
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Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are two of the most polarizing figures on the draft board this Thursday. The two most lauded quarterbacks in the 2015 draft class have the potential to change a team for years to come.
May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Mike Evans (Texas A&M) with Roger Goodell after being selected as the number seven overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL wants their potential journeys to stardom to begin with a nice, warm hug from Roger Goodell.
That embrace would grace the cover of newspapers nationwide and help the draft dominate both local and national sports coverage for weeks after the event, just as it has done for so many years.
Getting that picture will be difficult this year though. Because Winston and Mariota will not be attending the draft.
They will be at their respective homes with their families in Hawaii and Florida instead of the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
Camera crews will likely be present a la Joel Embiid in this past year’s NBA Draft. But Embiid was not the first pick in the draft.
Many analysts and fans alike envision Winston and Mariota being taken with the first two picks, meaning Mr. Goodell may have to pat himself on the back until someone in attendance is picked.
Mar 31, 2015; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Jameis Winston throws a pass during FSU Football Pro Day at the Albert J. Dunlap Athletic Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Choosing to stay with their entire family as opposed to only bringing a select few to Chicago is a responsible decision.
Sure, the cliché of players dreaming of hearing their name get called and running up on stage will not apply, but spending that moment with all the people they love and care about will be just as fulfilling.
The question is not whether or not the decision is right, because that can only be decided by the players.
The real question is whether or not the absence of these high profile athletes will in anyway hurt the NFL.
The first round of the NFL Draft reached 32 million viewers in 2014, easily surpassing the record of 25 million from the year before.
This number also beat out Game Seven of the 2014 World Series (23.5 million) and the deciding Game Five of the NBA Finals (18 million).
There will still be 26 players attending the draft, so viewership will stand pat and likely rise again.
The absence of Winston and Mariota will not bring the profits of this event to a screeching halt: it may only reduce the revenue from outstanding to great. They are not looking to start a trend, they are just simply making the right decision for themselves and their families.
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The NFL, New Era, Nike and every other sponsor are going to make millions of dollars regardless of who shows up.
However, one relationship that may deteriorate is that of the players and Commissioner Roger Goodell himself.
Goodell has been a lightning rod for controversy during his time at the head of the NFL.
Whether you look to infamous scandals such as the Saints’ “Bountygate” and Patriots’ “Spygate” or more recent events like the Ray Rice scandal, Goodell is making enemies faster than he can count them.
Nov 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Suspended NFL running back Ray Rice arrives with his wife, Janay Rice for his appeal hearing on his indefinite suspension from the NFL. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY
Outspoken players like James Harrison have made their displeasure with the commissioner known. Most of the league’s elite are too smart to call out Goodell in public, but Harrison is not alone in his thinking.
Many NFL players likely do not have a personal vendetta against Roger Goodell. He is not a bad person.
However if scandals like these continue to be handled like Brandon Bostick tries to handle onside kicks, a statement will have to be made by the players who make this multi-billion dollar industry hum.
I believe it would take this much for the players to call out Goodell because they have a romanticized image of him ingrained into their memory: the man who met them on stage at Radio City Music Hall, hugged them, gave them a hat, and signaled the start to their NFL careers.
Draftees from 2006 forward (the start of Goodell’s reign) juxtapose their dreams coming true with that image of Goodell, making it nearly impossible to turn on him.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will not have this problem.
Millions of people will tune in on Thursday night and watch these two quarterbacks celebrating the realization of their childhood dream. And Roger Goodell will not be a part of it.
Guys like Harrison can make all the noise they want, but it will take the voices of high profile stars like Winston and Mariota for the players to be heard and for a change to be made…..