Courtesy of the NFL

Courtesy of the NFL

April 26, 2020

On The NFL Draft: Roger Goodell is a Cutie-Patootie

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Let’s see if I can get through this article without mentioning you know what. Because that’s what we need right now: A distraction from everything that’s going on. And the National Football League served up the perfect distraction in the form of a three-day primetime event from Thursday through Saturday showcasing the top 255 college football players selected to don new uniforms and potentially not play in front of legions of adoring fans this fall.

Except, I wasn’t really distracted.

In the absence of any and all sporting affairs, the NFL Draft was the lone event tasked with carrying sports fans through this entertainment desert in which we are currently stranded (aside from the WNBA Draft, which even the venerable Adam Schefter forgot about). A mock draft Monday morning promised amusing technological glitches after the Bengals had trouble submitting the first pick. Reports surfaced throughout the week revealing that the general managers and head coaches were having trouble adapting to the new method of drafting. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, would be drafting from his $250 million mega-yacht. There would be fireworks, we were promised. There would be excitement.

The first six picks went exactly as most rational people expected. Joe Burrow, quarterback out of Louisiana State University, went first, followed by Chase Young (DE, Ohio State) and Jeff Okudah (CB, Ohio State). The Miami Dolphins, after months of media debate, ended up selecting exactly who we thought they would back in September (all hail the Dolphins’ general manager Chris Grier, Smokescreen God). Nobody’s internet went out; nobody’s Zoom feed crashed. In terms of drama, it was rather lacking.

Furthermore, there were no trades until the thirteenth pick, the longest we’ve had to wait for the first swap since 2015. Now, I’m not saying the teams had to switch up their drafting strategies or big boards just to entertain me, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. The NFL Draft is notoriously hard to evaluate and is basically a crapshoot at times, especially with quarterbacks. If we don’t really know who will pan out at the professional level and who will be a bust, make some moves! In 2011, the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future and traded up 15 spots just to select wide receiver Julio Jones, a television spectacle I still vividly remember nearly a decade later. This year, the first trade was the Buccaneers moving up one spot from fourteenth to thirteenth to select an offensive tackle. Boo.

Are my expectations unrealistic? Shut up.

But wait — just as the first evening was winding down, we were blessed with a truly inexplicable move: The Green Bay Packers moved up to the twenty-sixth pick and selected quarterback Jordan Love. Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, is only 36 and has four years remaining on his contract. Drama! Excitement! Distraction! With a litany of draft experts analyzing the picks live on TV, we were finally going to be treated to some juicy debate and wildly irresponsible speculation (Packers head coach Matt LaFleur hates Aaron Rodgers’ mustache?)!

Instead, ESPN spent five excruciatingly painful minutes detailing Love’s father’s suicide, a common theme throughout the broadcast. Arts editor Dan Moran ’21 texted me midway through the first round asking why the network insisted on highlighting how everyone’s family died in tragic freak accidents instead of, you know, highlighting their actual highlights. Denver Broncos defensive end Bradley Chubb vented his frustration with the ordeal late Friday night, along with myriad NFL fans online.

It felt as if, instead of using their platform to divert our attention from the grave situation otherwise ruling our lives, the NFL dug its heels in and shoved it even further down our throats. Everyone you know dies, but at least these guys just made $20 million. But to paraphrase Chubb, maybe I’m tripping.

One unexpected but admittedly very cute aspect of the draft, besides seeing all of the coaches’ and general managers’ families join them in their at-home war rooms, was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealing the picks from his basement. We saw Goodell at his most vulnerable: He inexplicably changed outfits midway through the first night, and on the second night, immediately after the sixty-ninth pick, Goodell decided to sit down and announce the picks from his comfy chair, “where I watch football every Sunday.” His jar of M&Ms, prominently displayed on a side table during the second day of broadcasting, slowly dwindled as the evening progressed. Goodell pleaded for fans to boo him. He seemed, for the first time ever, amiable and maybe, just maybe, actually human.

At the end of the day, the draft capitalized on the dearth of anything entertaining in popular culture. Everyone’s finished Tiger King, and Netflix’s run of God-awful reality shows are doing nothing to satiate America’s voracious appetite for content. Over 15.6 million people tuned in to the first round Thursday night, obliterating the previous record of 12.4 million viewers from 2014. The NFL streamed its so-called Draft-A-Thon concurrently on every social media platform (Instagram, Twitch, Club Penguin chat rooms) to raise money for COVID-19 relief (damn, almost made it to the end without mentioning it) and have raised over $6.5 million so far.

Was it as entertaining as many hoped it would be? Not even close. But the NFL Draft fulfilled its role as the premier sporting event for months and will hopefully tide us over until literally anything else happens.

 

Jeremy Markus is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as a senior editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at jmarkus@cornellsun.com