Commentary

It's OK for players to attend NFL draft

Updated: March 31, 2011, 4:17 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Right, that took all of about two minutes. Upon hearing that the decertified NFL Players Association was not, after all, going to stick pins into the voodoo dolls of top draft picks who show up at Radio City Music Hall to collect their caps and applause, a couple of the NCAA's projected finest said that's exactly where they are headed.

"Accepted my invite to the draft this morning!" Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn tweeted.

Adrian Clayborn
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAdrian Clayborn, who had 19 sacks in four seasons at Iowa, plans to attend the NFL draft. Scouts Inc. projects him among the first-round picks.

"We decided that we'd love to go there," Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones told Sirius NFL Radio.

Expect many more. In fact, expect this year's NFL draft to weirdly resemble almost every NFL draft before it. And that's OK. Why? Because Bud Adams says so.

Adams is the 88-year-old owner of the Tennessee Titans, and although he had no problem this week laying the NFL's woes on those recalcitrant players, he sounded virtually unworried about the real prospect of losing games.

"It's going to be a few months here, but we'll be playing this year. I guarantee we'll be playing," Adams told the Tennessean newspaper at a gala during which he was presented a lifetime humanitarian award by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"It's one of those things that [the players] haven't been very wanting to work out a deal with [the owners]," Adams said. "But we'll be playing football this year. I'll tell you that for sure."

And with that, really, the rest is just white noise, right? You've got one of the elder statesmen of the league -- not the decision-maker, granted, but a statesman all the same -- saying football is going to happen. You've got business people on all sides of the equation patiently explaining why it would be madness for the league to skip even one regularly scheduled weekend. You've got fans explaining, not so patiently, that they'll be messed with only to a certain extent.

Take away my organized team activities, and we don't really have a problem. Starting messing with my draft day, pal, and watch the shrapnel fly.

So the show goes on.

It was a genuine concession to public sentiment, really, that led the decertified group to backtrack on an idea that it clearly had considered: telling the new top draftees to stay away from the NFL's annual NYC talent pageant. You know the pageant: The draft picks go on stage, model jerseys and caps, do the photo-op thing and then hurry to greet their overjoyed families while the highlights roll.

The un-union was said to be devising its own draft celebration. It still is so devising, only now with no plans to go into direct competition with Tha League itself. The draft will still emanate from Radio City Music Hall, nerve center for the day of the most astoundingly successful sports league in U.S. history.

[+] EnlargeJones
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesJulio Jones, who is among the top prospects at wide reciever, also plans to be in New York.

The players will be there. Roger Goodell will be there. Never mind labor Armageddon, we've got a roster to fill. Nothing to see here, folks!

I'm convinced that football can do virtually nothing on any level that will cause itself mortal harm, although a protracted labor dispute -- one that actually causes the missing of games -- stands out as the worst idea in decades. In the main, the NFL is bulletproof, which is one reason I had no opposition to the new draftees skipping the Goodell handshake-fest: It would at least be an acknowledgement that this year is not the same as the other years.

But when public opinion swung hard the other way, the un-union listened, and now people like Adrian Clayborn and Julio Jones and Cam Newton -- I'm quite certain -- can enjoy their special draft moment without feeling as though there is the heavy hand of the NFLPA on their shoulders. If anything, the hand will be feather-light, albeit still there.

Considering everything, that's the right approach. Give the young players their day. Draw their loyalty by appearing to have backed off a significant position, which in actually played out (unfortunately) as petty and backbiting rather than good old-fashioned angry and righteous and thus became an easy drop.

A reporter in Iowa asked Clayborn about his decision and his subsequent relationship with the NFLPA, and it's a fair question. So is Clayborn's answer.

"It's important that I'm going to be in the union," Clayborn said. "But those guys understand it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

It is that. It'll happen. Because Bud Adams, ultimately, is right. And that's pretty much that.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. His next book, "The Voodoo Wave," will be released in August by W.W. Norton. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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