Everyone who voluntarily watches the draft knows what they're getting into. Nobody turns on the draft and thinks, "I hope Mel Kiper wins this year's Feats of Strength against Todd McShay!" We know what we're about to watch: Men reading names and other men talking about it. This wouldn't be a problem if those men had anything interesting to say. But, if you found the coverage inane and repetitive, then a heavy burden of reality descends upon us viewers, forcing us to face our great shame: Despite what ever vow we may have made to ourselves a year ago, we are watching the NFL draft.
Since the NFL draft is just a bunch of men talking, let's talk about the men who are doing the talking. On ESPN's first round telecast, a table of Chris Berman, Ray Lewis, Kiper and Jon Gruden kept us company for three hours. Three hours. I'd consider a journey on the Circle Line with those four as divine punishment. Berman has devolved into a pun algorithm missing a critical line of code. ("He is an electric player for a team that needs to light it up electrically.") Ray Lewis, a Hall of Famer who values intensity and camera time more than any other things in this world, believes all of life's shortcomings can be hurdled with heart. Within the first hour of the draft, he offered such cliches as "The one thing you can't teach is passion" and "A coach can't teach you what a father can teach you" (which supposedly means something to somebody) while inquiring if three separate players had the requisite chip on their shoulder. One of those players was the first overall selection, Jadeveon Clowney, whose mother works in an actual, honest-to-god chip factory. To be fair, Lewis did offer an impassioned, minute-long screed about how grown-ass men understand that the easy part of football is getting drafted, while the hard part is succeeding in the NFL. Afterwards, the camera cut to Gruden, who looked like he was approaching the closest derivative of emotion his face permits, something between avid churchgoer and the face one makes when eating a Warhead. For his part, Gruden could have been replaced by a blow-up doll with a sign taped to its chest reading "DRAFT A QUARTERBACK" with no discernible difference.
And then there's Kiper. I suspect a pretty fine dissertation could be penned on the quantum physics of Mel Kiper's life. Kiper exists independent of time, both physically and emotionally. The man appears to have found a cure for moods. His vernacular resides within the realm of maximized abilities, athletic gifts, raw ability and red flags. The way in which he describes real human beings could easily be confused with a thoroughbred horse, assessing physical ability, dimensions, lineage and "character issues."
This, really, is the draft broadcast as a whole, isn't it? Men cooped up in a room without direct sunlight lacking any perspective on the millions of dollars (often underprivileged) people are hoping to gain every minute. Even the draftee interviews themselves, by and large, are rehearsals for canned post-game press conferences: They're so thrilled to be forcibly relocated to Cleveland or Cincinnati or wherever and they just can't wait to get to work. If that kind of thing bothers you, then watching the draft probably isn't for you.
My first thought was that the coverage was missing something, a dose of reality perhaps. But then I wondered if, rather than needing an addition, the NFL draft needed a whole lot less. A change of venue, perhaps.
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Throughout the three-day draft, every analyst on both networks often reminded us of the importance of a "system fit", that a player could be right for one team and not another. This got me wondering if the same is true of the draft itself and the medium on which it is broadcast. The draft is surely worthy of an event of some kind, but is television the right one? Its ratings don't necessarily prove it is a good television event, just that people are interested in the results. If only there was some other public medium for brief statements, where entities could instantly and frictionlessly reach the entire world …
When you think about it, isn't the NFL draft the ideal Twitter event? There's nothing to say other than "With the [pick number] pick, the [team] have selected [player], [position] out of [school]" 256 times, plus any requisite trade announcements. If I didn't know any better, I might think Twitter was invented as a medium for the sole purpose of announcing draft picks.
I know, I know. This will never happen because of money, television rights, sponsorships, etc. Except, now that Twitter is a public company constantly searching for new ways to increase its engagement, isn't the NFL draft the exact type of event it would shell out to host? After all, the NFL draft is already a Twitter event:
That spike in the orange line is the first round of the NFL draft. Aside from a snapshot of the NFL's total dominance of the English language sporting landscape, this shows how much Twitter is tuned into the draft.
Moreover, we already know the draft wants to be mainly a Twitter event. It was naturally gravitating in that direction before the NFL artificially quelled the move by banning reporters from leaking picks. But this is working against the natural progression of the way league transactions are announced: News leaks on Twitter from official sources, then spreads across news sites and blogs like wildfire. Isn't the draft just a condensed version of 256 league announcements? The draft tries to reverse this process for the sake of a "television" event, which seems like a narrow-minded view of what an event could be in the Internet age. Imagine how many more people would be paying attention to the draft if it didn't involve having a cable subscription or listening to a group of men with total lack of self-awareness? (I feel the need to qualify this statement with the single bright spot of NFL draft coverage: Rich Eisen on NFL Network, who repeatedly brought up Michael Sam much to the chagrin of Mike Mayock, since this didn't fit into his 100-word vocabulary for describing human beings as football tools.)
This is my utopian vision, a world in which the draft is a tolerable event, where I can select the experts to which I am exposed, where overindulgent glitz and lack of self-awareness is sacrificed for diversity and efficiency. But none of those things have ever been associated with the NFL, which is why, above all else, this will never happen.
Of course, if I really wanted to, next year I could just turn off the TV and learn the picks a few measly seconds late. But what's the fun in that?