The first round of the 2015 NFL Draft begins in less than 24 hours. All across America (and the world), teams, players, and fans are doing their last bits of preparation leading up to the draft. Every single year, we get lost in the success stories, the big names, the sure-thing picks that (we hope) will lead our team to postseason success. With a draft filled with promising young prospects, this year is, perhaps, even more exciting than many.
However, we must approach the draft with one thought in mind. How small is football? As a senior in high school, a promising young basketball player perished, way before his time, in a car accident the night before the high school's football team's next game. He was a caring, intelligent, talented young man with the world at his feet and a bright future ahead of him. Then, after the random and deeply unfortunate events of one terrible night, his fire was extinguished. On Friday, every player on the football team was thinking about Saturday's game. On Saturday, nobody was thinking about football. How small is football?
Life is a series of moments. Many of these moments are ordinary. You wake up, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, drive to work, get stuck at 3 red lights, and spill coffee on your favorite suit before driving home, sleeping, and starting all over again the next day. In nearly every moment, the next moment is taken for granted. Most of us live every day with a vague sense of immortality; death is something off in the future, not to be worried about, not to be dealt with until we are forced to deal with it. Often, we get lost in the boring grind of daily life and fail to make the most of that grind, that boring, expansive series of moments that is, in itself, the main component of our life. While most of us define our lives by a few major moments, life is just, in itself, a series of moments. Every moment wasted is a wasted opportunity. Something could happen in the next thirty seconds that will forever alter your life. Are you ready for that possibility?
Football is a lot like life. A series of practices, workouts, snaps, film sessions, interviews (if you are a professional or college athlete), and, occasionally, games. Many people, both players and fans, get lost in the glory of the game and fail to look at the full picture. They cheer or jeer a player based only on their performance on the field without any attention towards the player's life story. So what if our favorite player killed three people and sells drugs in Kenya? As long as he's winning on the field, that's all that matters, right? I challenge you to look past that flawed assumption.
The football field is not the only path to greatness. A rare few athletes from the 2015 draft class may be perennial Pro Bowlers or Hall of Fame candidates at the end of their careers. However, the path to NFL success is long and arduous. One play, one moment, can drastically and irrevocably change the path of an entire career. Joe Theisman's NFL career ended as the result of one hit from Lawrence Taylor. Ki-Jana Carter, the first pick of the 1995 NFL Draft, saw his career drastically shortened as the result of a torn ACL sustained on the third play of his first pre-season game in the NFL. For every long and "successful" NFL career, there are hundreds of shorter careers that falter, for any number of reasons.
Greatness is not defined merely by what one achieves on the football field. Safety Corey Lynch, who has drifted from team to team in the NFL as a career backup player, helped rescue a woman from a car accident in 2009, saving her life. Even though Lynch isn't a household name, I would classify that as a form of greatness. Safety Pat Tillman walked away from an NFL career to serve in the Army in 2002 following the September 11th attacks, and was killed on April 22nd, 2004, in Sperah, Afghanistan. How small is football?
This year's draft class is filled with success stories that cannot be defined solely by on-field accolades and awards. Mississippi State offensive guard Ben Beckwith overcame the odds by making Mississippi State's football team as an unranked walk-on, and is now an NFL hopeful. Harvard outside linebacker/defensive end Zack Hodges overcame homelessness and the death of both of his parents before graduating high school to gain entry into an Ivy League school. Hodges plans to pursue a career in politics after football. Mississippi State defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls tackled a girl with a gun on his school bus in 2009, preventing a major tragedy from occurring. These players have already tasted moments of greatness, even if they are not the household names that Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are.
Greatness cannot just be defined by one's achievements on the football field. It is also inherently shaped by what one does outside of the spotlight, when the cameras are off and few people are watching. Given the full context of a person's life, how small is football? I challenge you, as a fan, a player, a coach, or a scout, to focus on the complete individual. I understand that the NFL is a business, and onfield success is the first goal of NFL teams. That being said, it is imperative to look at the person behind the player. Behind every unsuccessful player mocked as a bust or a "wasted pick" is a person and a family with feelings. I'd like to challenge the press to keep that in mind when writing. Behind every on-field success and failure is a bigger picture of off-the-field successes and failures. I challenge fans, players, and coaches to define the player not just by their onfield production but also by their off-the-field character. A mature, dependable person off the field is most likely to come through for your team on the field when the game is on the line.
For players heading into the draft, I would like to issue a challenge as well. Make the most of every snap, every experience, every moment. Don't take the great moments for granted. Enjoy them to your fullest ability. Learn and grow from the bad moments, but do not let them define who you are. Remember that , both on and off the field, even the simplest act can drastically alter the course of a person's life. A bad angle on a tackle can end a career. A few moments spent listening to a person in emotional distress might just improve, or even save, the person's life. Make the most of your NFL career, but most importantly, make the most of every moment, both on and off the field. You may have a long and successful NFL career and live to be 85. You might only play for a season or two and die before your 25th birthday. The future is a crap shoot. The only time you definitively possess is now. Make the most of it while preparing for the future, but be prepared for the possibility that the future can change in an instant. Though your spirit may be prepared for the rigors of a long and fruitful NFL career, your body may give in to injury or fatigue or the devastating sum of repeated heavy impacts. Make the most of every moment, because it is impossible to know what the next moment may bring.
For now, let's focus on the unique experience that is the NFL Draft. The joys, the anticipation, even the sorrow inherent in the draft process make for an experience like no other in professional sports. However, as we look forward to our favorite franchises selections and hope for a successful next season, and as we hear the names called this Thursday night, let's not forget the bigger question of context. How small is football? So don't forget to hug your friends and family, be thankful for the fact that you are able to follow the draft, and make the most of your experience. I will leave you with a draft-eve poem, and may the draft-odds be ever in your favor.
T'was the night before draft day and all across the dial
Mel Kiper was tantruming just like a child
Jon Gruden had stolen his Big Board with glee
While 3 defensive prospects were out smoking weed.
Winston, Mariota, and Hundley and Simms
Are all afraid to get hit by Denzel Perryman
With Gurley and Gordon both running the ball,
at 5'11 is Perryman too small? (NO)
The pass-rushers are all at the top of the board.
Which defensive tackle will make the Detroit Lions roar?
Which players are risers, and who's going to fall?
None of that matters on the field this coming fall.
While Baltimore riots and New York doesn't sleep,
The 2015 draft class is extremely deep.
Mel Kiper's hair still looks exactly the same.
Even with Goodell football's still a great game.
Tomorrow is draft day, under the lights.
Happy draft day to all and to all a good night.
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