The Mercy Rule

People Actually Watch the Draft?

By David Roth

With the exception of actual sporting events, and your better commercials for actual sporting events, and rebroadcasts of old sporting events, or even especially vivid memories of actual sporting events—even shitty memories, actually, even scotch-y nod-off recollections of a Utah Jazz game—there is no more thrilling televised sports event than the NFL Draft. Which is to say that the NFL Draft is one of the least essential viewing experiences in all of sports television, up to and including those Whatever Fuck It Here's Kristi-Yamaguchi Ice Skating to Some Whitesnake Ballad specials that shut-out networks program against playoff games.

The draft is pretty excruciating television: three claustrophobic days of Beckett-grade bleakness televised on ESPN, consisting of canned-aggro dickering by ESPN's resident experts and periodically interrupted by “well-um-definitely-you-know” interviews with neckless general studies majors from Southeast Conference schools and highlight videos. Despite that, Thursday's prime-time telecast of the first round is a ratings winner, and more people watch the draft every year. It is perfectly natural that you might have some questions about this.

What's happening, here?
Actually happening? NFL teams are selecting players from various college teams. The worst teams get to go first, but they will pick the wrong guy whenever possible—some Samoan dude who is good at bench-pressing but really wants to be a dermatologist; a quarterback whose taste for recreational codeine drank somehow flew under the radar; a strapping Mormon with a fancified name like Kody Larribee who has never run before—because they're run by feckless local millionaires and the starchy, information-averse Major Dad types they employ as GMs. But every team gets to make picks, and given the way that the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement works, draft picks are now especially valuable, since rookies will on balance be pretty underpaid.

Or, if you meant what's happening on your television: mostly just a bunch of ESPN personalities pretending to disagree with each other about various things, and then mentioning the name of some corporate sponsors. For instance, ESPN's resident defective draft expert, Mel Kiper Jr., will be known this year as Subway Presents Mel Kiper Jr. Brought to You by the Delicioso Meatball Parmigiana Hero from Subway Now Just Five Dollars for a Limited Time Subway Eat Fresh. This is a draft tradition.

Are there any other NFL Draft Traditions I should know about?
Besides the Jets biffing their early-round picks and their fans reacting slightly more dramatically than people did when Challenger blew up, not really. Also the Raiders will draft a bunch of skinny fast guys that have maybe never played football before. Last year, they picked "A Comet, Somehow, but Like in a Helmet" in the third round, then signed the comet to a three-year, $18 million deal.

How do teams decide which players to pick?
For a long time, the NFL Draft was an imprecise science, with teams basing their decisions on little more than game tape and the word of scouts who'd actually seen the various draft-eligible players play. Today, the draft is an imprecise pseudoscience, with teams measuring players' abilities to do non-football things like run in a straight line and take the same personality test to which temp agencies submit would-be employees. Another innovation is having team officials—generally mayonnaise-based life forms in windbreakers, often with mustaches—sit down for brief interviews with the players. The public whisper campaigns for or against these players depend to a great degree on how well these 21-year-olds from the football favelas of Louisiana and Florida get along with those ultra-conservative jumped-up gym teachers—people who, again, are people who order their clothes from the Bobby Knight Aggro Caucasian Casuals catalog. So everything works a lot better now, and teams seldom make mistakes, except you should substitute "always" for "seldom."

So is Train performing at this thing? Or like some precision-coiffed country musician named Clay Ruffboots or Keith Patriot or whatever?
I don't think so. Why, did you hear something about that?

No, it just seemed like something that would be appropriate, given what you described about the telecast.
Oh, OK, good. That makes sense. But yeah: no. No promises on next year.

So this is just basically buff dudes in suits from Men's Wearhouse's "big and rectangular" collection looking nervous, talking on iPhones, and then trying on a hat and shaking hands with people who look like different types of Republican congressman? And other guys yell about that, and it goes on for like 64 hours?
Basically, yes, it is exactly like that. Also it is all held indoors in a room that smells like unaccompanied men and hot dogs.

I guess my question is why it took so long for this to become a must-watch television event.
Well, probably because of how inert it all is. It really is basically a bunch of middle-aged dudes frantically killing time by engaging in fake arguments about things they know very little about, owing as to how they've been fed nothing but dis- and misinformation from their ostensible sources for months, and moreover to the fact that they could never, ever, be wrong enough to get fired from their gigs. Mel Kiper would definitely be running a sketchy billiards place in North Florida with some sort of illegal wallet manufacturing concern in the back if he didn't make millions for being dead certain about college football players he mostly has never met. Chris Berman, the unbearable ESPN personality who's supposed to be anchoring the thing, is basically an airhorn that's powered by Canadian Club and rare beef. So you have to care about football a lot to watch this thing, and not just because of the creepy human-auction vibe. It's loud and dull and fucking endless, and by the second hour that these dudes are sitting there you can basically feel the bad breath coming from your television. And then it goes on for a few dozen more hours after that.

Oh, I was being sarcastic. I have no idea why or how anyone would watch this.
Ah, OK.

Yeah, I hoped that would be obvious.

Previously - Ron Artest Is the Player Fox Loves to Hate

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