NFL prospects are protected from inappropriate team questions

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — NFL detective Jake Andrews answers questions from teams designed to check his character and behavior for more than just his football IQ.

These questions — like, Would you rather be a Super Bowl Champion or a Hall of Famer? – is a standard problem for teams considering potential draft picks leading up to All-Star Games such as Saturday’s Senior Bowl and in the NFL. What’s not acceptable anymore: External questions that a player might find insulting or embarrassing, an indication of the greater concern for mental health concerns among athletes.

Former NFL linebacker Brian Westbrook spoke this week stressing the changes in the 21 years since he arrived in the league, said Andrews, a Troy offensive lineman and other players.

“When he first got into the league, if you wanted to see a psychiatrist or something, if you were having a down day, when it came time to negotiate the next contract, you knew (the general managers) would bring that up,” Andrews said. It cannot happen in this day and age.

“I think it’s a good thing. A lot of people have mental health issues and it’s really important to keep that in check. Questions can really reveal people, so I think it’s good that it protects us.”

The league warned teams in a memo last January that they could have to forfeit the choice between the first and fourth rounds and be fined at least $150,000 for out-of-bounds questions. Singles club employees may also face fines or suspension.

There have been isolated reports in recent years of inappropriate questions being asked about the draft forecasts.

In 2010, then-Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland apologized to Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Dez Bryant for asking him during a pre-draft visit if his mother was a hooker.

In 2016, then-Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn apologized to Eli Abel because one of his coaches asked the cornerback about his sexual preference.

Two years later, Derios Geese, formerly of LSU, said that one team in the group asked about his sexuality and another asked if his mother was a prostitute.

“Whether you are a professional athlete or not, there is a level of dignity and respect that comes with being interviewed,” NFL Executive Director Troy Vincent said at the owners’ meetings in December. “I think we can all appreciate that.

“Sometimes (the players) share things with you and you scratch your head. Other times, you get embarrassed. Those are things we can fix.”

Mental health professionals say the move is a step forward at a time when the psychological well-being is in the spotlight for athletes like Olympians Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, NBA star Kevin Love and former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

“Certainly organizations are looking to protect their integrity and financial investment in players,” Dr. Stephen Ferrando, director of psychiatry at Westchester Medical Center Health Network in New York, wrote in an email. However, efforts to uncover such problems do not justify intrusive questioning of athletes. In fact, such questioning is likely to lead athletes to hide their problems for fear of retaliation.

Furthermore, this intrusive questioning may be based on assumptions, and this is likely to compound negative feelings. The NFL took a huge step to push the boundaries when interviewing players.”

“It’s important to maintain the dignity of potential employees” in any type of job interview, said Joshua Norman, a psychiatrist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

“Over his years in the NFL, there were always these kinds of impromptu questions coming out of the interview process as college prospects were coming up through the ranks,” said Norman, who works with Buckeyes athletes. “I think it’s nice that they kind of put a little bit of a structure behind it to keep the dignity of the players. And also respect any kind of mental health situation.”

Both Ferrando and Norman said studies have shown that athletes experience the same instances of mental health struggles as the rest of the population.

Illinois safety Sidney Brown is fine with facing tough questions from NFL teams, saying his worst offenses amount to old parking or speeding offenses.

Brown said, playing in the Senior Bowl with teammate and brother Chase Brown.

“If they don’t get asked today, they will eventually. It’s nice that they have our backs, but these are informal job interviews. This is football, right? You just have to be prepared for anything thrown your way.”

Kansas defensive end Lonnie Phelps said no questions were asked that struck him as at fault, but he appreciated the effort to protect the players.

“I see they really care about the mental health of the players,” Phelps said. “They have psychiatrists and things like that for free.

“They really care about mental health.”


Associated Press sportswriter Schuyler Dixon in Irving, Texas, contributed to this report.


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