The NFL Draft and Grace

The Draft Puts Our Shallow Desire to Judge in Full Celebration.


I do not know how to speak French. Or bake bread. Opera and Hip-Hop are completely alien to me. But I know football. At least the American version. It was central in my life 50 years ago when I played, 40 years ago when I coached, and a decade ago when a son devoted his life to this violent, sacrificial obsession. In ways I cannot explain, the acts of players on the field register to a knowledge base in my brain that allows for instant projection and unthinking understanding.

That is the reason that I know that the NFL Draft is absurdly distorted.

The NFL Draft has been a media blitz this year — after the pandemic dropped its 2020 TV ratings. The draftees are turned into commodities to promote The Show. They are humans, not things to be used or rejected. But in this made-for-TV event of radical judgments, the theater of it all would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

There is little humanity beyond the packaged profiles of the anointed, alongside endless projections of value and inabilities. Numbers are assigned to players that are meant to convey value. How fast can they run 40 yards? How wide is their wingspan? How large are their hands? The NFL hopefuls are poked and prodded, endlessly scrutinized, until there is nothing left but the judgment of the professionals. Their humanity reduced to numbers on a value chart, draftees await their day of reckoning with anxious hope.

We are fully flawed — like almost any NFL draft candidate. A 4.4-second 40-yard dash is not as good as a 4.3. A height of 5 feet, 10 inches is not as good as 6 feet 2 inches (if you are not a running back, that is). Great strength may have short arms. A deep ball passing threat may have limited mobility. Each judgment reveals both flaws and gifts. The Draft puts our shallow desire to judge in full celebration. The menu of the worthy and the failed becomes a tapestry of judgments and prejudices in each player.

We do that kind of judging every day, for everyone we meet, because it is just easier to label, dismiss, and move on. The NFL Draft is just the loudest, most institutionalized way of imposing judgment on humans that I can think of.

I judge myself that way, everyday, too. It is as easy to see failure in unmet expectations, flaws in incapacities, or anger in impatience — just like the bench reps of those NFL draftees. But when I see football, I also see the missed tackle, or block, or interception. I see the world around the failure, not just the failure. What talent evaluators call “intangibles” are usually the substance of what makes an NFL player great. They cannot be measured or quantified, so they elude the judgments of scouts and executives alike.

The national bright lights, imagery, and endless words that focus only on the measurables of a player turn lifetimes into cogs and sprockets that conform to the business of the NFL Machine.

Something that I have been given understands worth beyond performance. I think God sees me, and you, with the eyes of understanding, not judgment. The intangibles of our lives are those things we are by grace, but do not possess. Everything we have or do has been given to us. Despite the grace of God’s understanding, we do not believe it: each of us knows the fear of failing to live our hopes because our hopes always exceed our faith.

The hype and screaming of the National Football League is the very worst of humanity. Soundbites trivialize lifetimes. Talking heads virtually yell postulations, predictions, and judgements. How different is that from any of our dismissals of the inconvenient, useless, and unnecessary that we deal with every day? I think I can simply judge and move on because I do not have a clue about who I am dealing with beyond the necessary skills and threats each person might offer. The NFL Draft Machine is but a microcosm of how we live.

I don’t care much about the TV show of the NFL. But I deeply love football. My odd intimacy with football means that each player is a human, surrounded by humans, not stats. I wish I could carry that through for how I view all the rest of us, including myself. But the ease of assumption, of judgment or dismissal, isn’t limited to the NFL Draft. That is why I pray.

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