Saturday, April 24, 2010

NFL Draft doesn't measure heart

On the day many NFL first-round draft picks were being introduced to their new teams and glorified by fans with Super Bowl dreams, JaMarcus Russell (pictured right with commissioner Roger Goodell) was officially tabbed a bust and his once immense potential abandoned by the Oakland Raiders, who traded for Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell to be their starter.

Russell was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, a rocket-armed mammoth dart thrower expected to lead the Raiders back to respectability. Instead, Russell collected more spinning rims and expensive platinum chains than touchdown passes. He relished the $31.5 million signing bonus and splurged on bling, moved many family members to the Oakland area and was a fixture in the Bay Area party scene. There was one thing missing: Russell forgot about the demands and expectations of his draft position. He forgot that every one of his moves were being judged, and the same fans who were clamoring for his autograph this time three years ago, would be tearing into him after his first interception.

Russell is a prime example of why the professional draft process is so inexact. Teams can measure height, weight, speed, agility and even intelligence, but they can't measure passion, heart or how money will affect a man barely out of high school. Russell loved the money more than the game, and when that happens, you will be replaced.

The NFL is a no excuses league and the Raiders were reluctant to admit they had made a mistake but their pursuit of Campbell, a hard-working player who has been often criticized in Washington -- but never for his worth ethic -- now has a new home. While Russell will have to resuscitate his career with a new team or hopefully he saved some of that cash for his post-NFL career.

This week former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy Rick Mahorn filed for bankruptcy, admitting he and his wife had just $1,001 in his bank account and his Piston championship ring was missing, likely sold or pawned. It's a harsh lesson that money doesn't last forever, and the key to long-term financial comfort is maximizing your career. Russell has done nothing my maximize his waistline in Oakland and will soon learn that same demoralizing lesson that the money or lifestyle doesn't last forever, or even past age 25 in many NFL cases.

New draftees are kissing family members, mamas, daddies, kids and crazy uncles but they need to fully realize the arduous path ahead to succeed. The adoration doesn't last long when you don't produce results and while a platinum chain in your likeness wows the ladies at the club but self indulgence does little to improve your passion or desire or increase the size of your heart.

Heart can't be measured. That's why it's fascinating to track those high picks who falter and those low ones who flourish. Denver took a lot of heat for taking Tim Tebow but he has an intangible that will supersede his weaknesses and teams tend to forget this is a people business. Russell had all the physical tools but the heart of a kitten.

But there he was, dressed in a well tailored suit, shaking hands with the commissioner, smiling, holding up a jersey, but it was all a sham. Russell can no longer get by on his physical tools, his allure eventually dried up because there was no substance, no devotion and no fortitude.

Those characteristics can't be measured at the NFL combine. Russell is the latest example of an athlete who loved the money more than the game, and that same affliction could fell many of this weekend's picks. Until the NFL views heart and desire as a critical part of success, it will continue to pour millions of dollars into fraudulent saviors who deliver nothing more than unrealized dreams.