I really hope Jameis Winston goes through with reported plans to not attend the NFL draft April 30.
Not that there’s anything wrong with players wanting to celebrate that once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a moment they worked toward for the better part of their lives. I understand why young men in that position are anxious to make the trip and see the sights, eager for a taste of red-carpet festivities that dwarf their college experience.
There’s nothing wrong if Winston wants to be there. He has every right – regardless of the rape accusations that never led to criminal charges – and he should enjoy his walk across the stage if desired.
But the drumbeat of critics who suggest he’s obligated to show up is getting on my nerves. I’ve heard that he’s making a huge mistake, it’s important for him to be there and he owes it to the league. One commentator said skipping the draft wouldn’t reflect well on Winston’s image.
Plenty of things would hurt Winston in the public eye. His absence from the NFL’s contrived TV show isn’t one of them.
In fact, it would be refreshing if a player of such status – he’s projected to be the No. 1 pick – decided he’d rather skip the hoopla and celebrate in comfortable surroundings with family and friends instead.
The spotlight would be just as bright. TV cameras can capture the player’s immediate reaction and he can conduct interviews while reclining on the couch. The next day, he can fly to his new city for official introductions, a news conference and sessions with local media. Rookie mini-camp would begin the following week and draft night would fade into a distant memory.
The potential decision can’t be separated from the player in question. But if imagine if No. 1 pick Andrew Luck opted to sit out the faux drama in 2012.
We wouldn’t have a picture of him and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell holding a No. 12 Colts jersey. Nor would we have a shot of Luck holding the jersey while surrounded by his mother, father, sisters and brother.
Luck and the league might not have survived without those moments.
When the Browns selected Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas with the third pick of the 2007 draft, the offensive lineman was fishing with his father on Lake Michigan. How’d that work out?
Thomas has been selected to seven Pro Bowls and is the only player in team history to twice win the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
“I was invited to the draft in New York,” he told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in 2013. “But I’m not into wearing a suit, plus I wanted to spend time with my dad fishing. There was a lot of publicity behind that, but I didn’t do it for publicity. I did it because I wanted to spend time with my dad.”
Sounds like a good reason to me, though I don’t think any player needs to justify that decision, least of all Winston.
But for argument’s sake, let’s say his real motivation is avoiding a visceral, negative response from the crowd when he goes up to shake Goodell’s hand. That instinct is perfectly understandable. He will have plenty of opportunities to be heckled and taunted as the visiting team’s QB; no need to sully what’s supposed to be among the best days of his life.
Winston’s father told ESPN that they plan to skip the draft but the decision isn’t “set in stone.” Critics complain that Winston has an obligation to show up, put on a happy face and begin repairing his image.
Goodell & Co. might strenuously disagree under a dose of truth serum.
The commish has become a national dartboard, justifiably so, for his botched handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case and other player issues that required disciplinary measures. Goodell is likely to draw a cascade of boos at the draft’s outset and probably doesn’t want the crescendo to rise if Tampa Bay makes Winston the first pick.
MMQB reported that a meeting with Goodell – at Winston’s request – was held earlier this month. I wouldn’t be surprised if attending the draft came up and Goodell told Winston there’s no problem if he skips it.
If Winston was leaning in that direction anyway, I couldn’t blame the NFL for making a less-than-concerted effort to dissuade him. Considering all of the negative press in the past 12 months, Goodell will gladly sidestep an avoidable hit.
But shame on the league if it talked him into perhaps bowing out, which wouldn’t be surprising.
On second thought, I hope Winston goes through with plans to not attend … unless the NFL really doesn’t want him there.
In that case, I hope he’s picking out clothes and packing his bag at this very moment.