Privacy and draft picks don't mix in the NFL   

Updated: April 22, 2008, 10:48 AM ET

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So I'm reading a story about the NFL draft, which is an upset in itself -- not the reading part, but the NFL draft part, since most everything written about the NFL draft is so overheated and insider-y that you need an advanced degree in Lack of Perspective to even begin to care.

But this story was different, even if it was presented as more of the same. It was in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and it was devoted to the NFL's undying quest to unearth even the smallest and most insignificant personality flaws in its prospective players.

Chris Long

Ben Liebenberg/NFL Photos/Getty Images

We can only imagine what the Dolphins had in store for Chris Long when they talked to him.

You know this one: Oh, they're so thorough, crossing T's and dotting I's with the fervor of cockroaches on crank.

But get this: The lead-in was a quaint little anecdote about Tennessee linebacker Jerrod Mayo and his experience in an interview with one NFL team. In a face-to-face interview, Mayo was asked, "When was the last time you cheated on your girlfriend?"

This is viewed, of course, as evaluation. It's seen as an example of how NFL teams look for any little edge that might help them make the wise and economically prudent decision on draft day.

There's no end to the Wonderlics and interviews and body-fat percentages and televised vertical jumps. And now they feel they can ask a young man questions they have no business asking?

How about we ask a different question: What the hell are you doing asking that question?

Let's set aside for a moment the hypocrisy of the whole evaluation process. The fact is, sociopaths have always fared pretty well in the NFL, so you never know whether the answer they want is the one that is socially acceptable.

The story, typically, doesn't raise any questions about privacy, or how much a potential employer has a right to know about a potential employee. It doesn't address the issue of whether a prospective employee should feel compelled to answer questions that have absolutely no bearing on the job being offered.

It doesn't address whether those questions are even legal under fair hiring practices. If the team that asked Mayo that question doesn't draft (hire) him, does he have a discrimination case if he can prove it's related to his answer to that question?

Instead, Mayo's story is used as a setup to show that despite all these supposedly airtight safeguards, things don't always go as planned. Maybe teams can acquire too much information, or outthink themselves, or find some other way to pick the absolute wrong guy at the absolute wrong time.

Which means, amazingly, that teams can find out whether someone cheated on his girlfriend a week ago last Friday and still -- still? -- make a horrible draft mistake. Not only horrible, but horribly expensive to the entire franchise.

You know as well as I do, though, that if they'd only asked Ryan Leaf the last time he stole the change off his grandma's dresser, all would have been right with the world.

I'm not faulting the guy who wrote the story, because we've all become immune to such issues. The NFL is the monolith, the all-knowing, all-consuming omnivore. It must be obeyed, since every young man who can run fast and hit hard obviously would do anything to have the privilege of donning one of its uniforms.

Answering a fatuous question is the least of his worries.

NFL teams can ask inappropriate questions -- questions no human-resources department in any self-respecting bank, department store or media company would ever approve -- because it's dealing with young men who have no viable options.

I mean, does Jerrod Mayo drop from the second round to the fifth round if he answers that he doesn't even have a girlfriend on whom to cheat? And how does he prove that's the reason he dropped?

Oh, I can hear you now:

If they don't want to play, they don't have to.

These guys are in line to make millions of dollars and they should answer any damned question the teams want to ask.

I'd answer whatever question they could think of if they were going to let me play in the NFL.

That's exactly why they feel they can ask those questions, because the players are hostage to the teams' whims and the public is so brainwashed it doesn't even see it.

There's got to be some dignity involved here, on both sides of the table.

For the record, Mayo said he'd never cheated on his girlfriend.

And that's too bad.

(Not the cheating part, but the answer itself.)

That's good for Mayo -- and, presumably, his girlfriend -- but I wouldn't draft him.

I'd draft the guy who had enough independence of thought and self-respect to tell the interviewer to go to hell.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.


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