— If Dez Bryant had been interviewing with a Fortune 500 company, he never would have been subject to such humiliating questions, right?
Well, maybe not. But the NFL interview process is unlike any other. Part of what makes the NFL interviews different are the interviewees. “A lot of kids are from bad backgrounds — really bad backgrounds,” said one AFC college scouting director. “Most people listening to talk sports radio can’t even fathom it.”
And NFL teams have a lot more at stake in their player interviews than most businesses do in their employee interviews. Overlooking a significant aspect of a player’s past can cost people jobs and it can cost a team millions and millions of dollars.
Hearing that Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asked Bryant if his mother was a prostitute really isn’t surprising to anyone who has been a part of the process. And that is not meant to be a reflection of Ireland — a well respected and well liked member of the NFL community.
I have been fortunate enough to have sat in on about 20 team interviews of draft prospects. And the line of questioning always is blunt, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally feels like a cross examination from a prosecuting attorney.
And players, at least those with decent agents, know exactly what is coming. Some will even start addressing touchy subjects before the questions come up.
At least two NFL teams indicated their reports on Bryant said they had been told Bryant’s father was a pimp and his mother was a prostitute. It may have been bad information. What we know for certain is Bryant’s mother has been arrested twice for selling crack cocaine. But whether she broke the law in other ways needed to be investigated, given the rumors.
Why would a team have to know if Bryant’s mother were a prostitute? Well, think of it this way. Michael Vick grew up in a dog fighting culture. He remained in that culture after he made it in the NFL. What if Bryant grew up around prostitution and he remained associated with that culture?
Usually, NFL front office men already know the answers to their questions when they sit down with potential draftees. They just want to see how the athlete answers — or reacts.
Of course, there are ways to approach such subjects gently if all that is being sought is an honest answer. “You can ask them in a way that isn’t overtly offensive,” the AFC college scouting director said. “You can say, ‘There are rumors out there, and we want to clear them up if they are not true.’”
If a team executive is asking loaded questions that are potentially insulting merely to get a rise out of a player, he is crossing a line that probably should not be crossed.
At some point, if an interviewer does go too far, it could become a legal issue. But up to this point, there have been no legal challenges to interviews, according to an NFL spokesman. Interestingly, some interviews are videotaped. Some are not.
Bryant wasn’t the only draft prospect who was asked touchy questions in interviews this year. One scout said he had to ask Abilene Christian offensive tackle Tony Washington, who went undrafted despite considerable ability, about being convicted for having sex with his 15 year old sister.
I was in a room with a top prospect in the 2007 draft when a team asked him if he ever smoked marijuana. He had, and he admitted it even though he had never been caught. That earned him points in the evaluation process.
Drug questions are commonplace in the NFL interview.
But really, the most valuable answers from NFL prospects are usually about their family.
“First, we want to know about his family background, how stable he is, his support structure,” Chiefs college scouting director Phil Emery said in an interview a few years ago. “Who is involved with him financially? Are there people depending on him? Does he come from a one-parent home? If he has a problem, who does he go to? We might need to put our player programs director on him, or we might need to pair him with a veteran who can be a good influence.”
Teams considering drafting players like Bryant need to know everything they can about them — and their families. But they also need to be sensitive and dignified in the process.
Q: Hi Dan, I am curious about the answer to the annual question of the NFL. Will Brett return to play this year at Minnesota? Thanks for your educated guess.
— Tom Austin, Dallas
A: I don’t see how you could guess Favre will do anything but play in 2010. He is coming off arguably the best season of his career. He doesn’t have any major injuries. He is playing on a Super Bowl contender. His coach allows him unprecedented leeway — including taking training camp off.
Favre is unpredictable, but to me it seems like a slam dunk he’ll be back.
Q: Will the Steelers ever get anything out of Limas Sweed? With [Santonio] Holmes gone I thought Sweed might have a chance but this injury is going to set him back, right?
— Mary Jackson, Austin, Texas
A: We don’t know all the details about his Achilles injury yet, but we do know that Achilles injuries can ruin wide receivers. Achilles injuries can take away explosion and short area burst — which is what receivers need to separate.
And even if Sweed’s injury isn’t that serious, he also has yet to prove he can make plays in the NFL in his two seasons. It is fair to wonder if he ever will.
Q: A lot of the talk in San Diego is that Ryan Matthews is going to be the Chargers’ main guy next season. What about Darren Sproles?
— Jacob Aaron, San Diego
A: The Chargers did not trade up in the first round with the hopes that Matthews will be a hood ornament. They want to ride that pony.
If all goes as planned, I would suspect Matthews and Sproles will be used similarly to how LaDanian Tomlinson and Sproles were used in 2007 and 2008. Matthews will get the bulk of the work while Sproles will serve as a change of pace. Sproles is a fantastic player, but too much of him is not necessarily a good thing.
Q: I read that the Bucs say they would’ve taken Gerald McCoy No. 1 overall. Any truth to that or are they just trying to make us feel good about the pick?
— Howard, Pensacola, Fla.
A: It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bucs would have taken McCoy first overall. After all, the Bucs already have a quarterback of the future. And teams were divided over whether McCoy or Ndamukong Suh was the better prospect. McCoy probably is a better fit for the Bucs’ scheme.
And there really is no upside in lying about something like this. In fact there may be a downside — in the course of negotiations McCoy’s agent Ben Dogra is sure to bring up the fact that the Bucs said they would have taken his client first.