One of the greatest ideas in television history was the Crazy/Hot Scale, made famous by Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother”. The whole premise of this scale was that, the hotter a woman is, the greater the level of craziness a man will accept in a relationship. As a math/economics teacher and as a huge fan of that TV show, I think the idea was and remains brilliant. Furthermore, the idea actually applies to so many more facets of life beyond just how hot and/or crazy someone is.
In any setting, a person will put up with more of a person’s bad traits if that person has many good traits. You might avoid Johnny who does nothing but drop f-bombs in every conversation. However, you might befriend Jimmy who also drops f-bombs in every conversation but happens to have a beach house. You might avoid Richie, the guy who always starts fights when he drinks. However, you might make every attempt to hang out with Charlie, the guy who always starts fights when he drinks….but also has Giants season tickets. You get my drift. I am an economics teacher, so I do tend to break all of life’s decisions down into a weighing of marginal costs and marginal benefits. Every scenario listed above shows a person making a decision that allows marginal benefit to exceed marginal cost (or at least to prevent marginal cost from exceeding marginal benefit).
This brings me now to Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, and Michael Sam. Sharp right turn right there; I know, but hear me out. These three football players have vastly different stories, but there is one common theme. All three guys found themselves without NFL teams at times when many felt that the players were still good enough to play in the NFL. Naturally, many people are quick to say that Kaepernick is currently unemployed because teams do not like that he kneeled for the national anthem. Similarly, many people said that Tebow found himself out of the NFL because teams did not want such a religious figure on the field. Lastly, some people say that Michael Sam never latched onto a team’s regular season roster because teams were scared of having a gay player. I disagree with all three of these statements.
I feel that there is one reason why these three players found/find themselves out of NFL jobs: distractions. There is nothing NFL teams hate more than distractions. (OK, the Jets actually love distractions, but, if you were running that team, you too would to anything to get people’s minds off what is happening on the field.) NFL teams have an owner, a GM, a bunch of vice presidents, a head coach, 53 players, approximately 106 assistant coaches (by my count), a training staff, a video staff, and a guy to tell everyone to stand back when a play approaches the sideline. Being a GM or head coach is a grueling job. These people have to make sure that all the afore-mentioned players, coaches, etc. are on the same page at all times. The coach has to watch endless amounts of film and spent countless hours coming up with game plans. The coach and GM have to make many personnel decisions. Most importantly, the coach must have many, many conversations with all the people on his staff and team. This is why teams hate distractions. Teams literally (and I mean “literally”) have no time to deal with distractions. Every second a member of the team spends discussing a distraction with the media, talking about it with a teammate, or thinking about is a second not spent worrying about football. In the NFL, that lost second could turn a win into a loss, no small matter in a 16-game season.
Anyway, let’s now circle back to the “Crazy/Hot Scale”. In football (and sports in general), I believe the analogous scale is the “Distraction/Asset Scale”. Odell Beckham Jr. can get away with proposing to the kicking net because he is a top-flight receiver. Similarly, T.O. got away with pulling out a Sharpie because he was a Hall-of-Fame receiver. On the other hand, if Preston Parker had proposed to the Giants’ kicking net in 2014; first off, he would have surely dropped the ring. However, more importantly, the Giants would have released him because he was a subpar receiver creating a distraction. Beckham and T.O. landed in the positive region of the “Distraction/Asset” scale, while Parker would have ended up in the negative region.
Let’s now return to Kaepernick, Tebow, and Sam. If 2013 Colin Kaepernick had kneeled for the national anthem and then been released by the Niners, 31 teams would have been knocking on his door to give him a contract. He was that dominant a player back then and was deep into the positive region of the “D/A Scale”. However, many people forget just how bad a “still standing” Kaepernick played in 2015, his second of three-consecutive disappointing campaigns. Months before Kaepernick started kneeling during the 2016 preseason, the Niners were considering releasing Kaepernick to make Blaine Gabbert their starter. The 49ers actually contemplated that BEFORE the kneeling began. Blaine Gabbert!!! Anyway, fast forward over a year until now. Pretend that you are an NFL GM. You know that you need to sign a backup quarterback. Colin Kaepernick is sitting there, having stunk on the field for the past three seasons. Why the heck would you want to sign him and subject your team – especially your coach and starting quarterback – to endless questioning about the ex-kneeler? When the guy has stunk for three years, is it worth it? Of course not. 2017 Kaepernick is firmly planted on the wrong side of the “D/A Scale”, and that is why he remains unsigned.
Now, let’s switch gears and discuss Tim Tebow, the man that I pray every night does not show up in Flushing this September. 2011 Denver Tebow was well on the good side of the “D/A Scale”. Sure, most of his wins that year stemmed primarily from great defense and stellar field-goal kicking, but that is why he was not given a starting job in 2012. Of course, 2012 was the year when the Jets signed Tebow to be Mark Sanchez’s backup and to have other still-yet-to-be-unveiled roles. As I mentioned earlier, the Jets love distractions. The franchise certainly subscribes to the “All publicity is good publicity” mantra. In training camp 2012, I am pretty sure that ESPN managed to move every single building from its Bristol, CT, headquarters to the Jets’ training facility in Florham Park. Jets’ training camp was all Tebow, all the time. The media obsessed over him, and he was the focal point of camp. Some starting quarterbacks would have handled Tebow’s specter as backup QB just fine. Tom Brady and the Mannings immediately come to mind as such quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez, however, was not in this group and did not respond well to Tebow’s presence. Did Tim Tebow directly cause Sanchez to be much worse in 2012 than in 2009-11? We cannot say for sure. Did Tim Tebow directly cause the “butt fumble”, which happened on Thanksgiving in 2012? We cannot say that for sure either, but the possibility is on the table. Either way, 2012 dropped Tebow firmly down to the bad side of the “D/A Scale”. Yes, he received tryouts with the Patriots and Eagles, but those tryouts did not amount to anything. In the end; following the 2012-Jets fiasco, no team wanted to deal with all the Tebowmania and hype just so that a mediocre backup quarterback could possibly undermine the starter. Teams were not taking a stand against Tebow’s religious nature, just as they are not currently taking a stand against Kaepernick’s now-defunct habit of kneeling for the national anthem. It all comes down to the “D/A Scale”. Why have a distraction like Tebow or Kaepernick be your backup when there will always be a Hasselbeck, McCown, or Hoyer who can do just as mediocre a job while providing no distractions?
This brings us to the last prime example of the “D/A Scale”, Michael Sam. Sam was a fifth-round pick, and fifth-round picks are far from sure bets to make NFL rosters. This defensive end ended up being released by two teams between his drafting (May 2014) and Week 1 of the 2014 season and never ended up playing a regular-season down. Sure, it is disappointing that the first openly gay NFL player did not play a regular-season snap. However, when people wonder why no third team ever gave him a shot, I do not believe it is because he is gay. I believe it is because there are hundreds of defensive ends to whom a team can give a tryout and hope it works out. The chance of any individual from this group having NFL success is minimal, so why would a team choose the one guy that comes with distractions in the form of media hype and constant questioning? I believe that Sam’s sexuality was neither an issue nor the distraction, but coaches and players having to be asked countless questions about his sexuality would have been the major distraction. Additionally, teams knew that not only would they have to answer questions when giving him a tryout, but they also knew that they would be judged harshly if they released him. That is why they stayed away and chose to give tryouts to a bunch of players of equal football caliber but with no potential for distractions. GMs and coaches merely wanted to stay on the good side of the “D/A Scale”. For what it’s worth, I feel that, if Michael Sam were a legitimate NFL talent – if he were in the positive region of the “D/A Scale” – he would be on an NFL team. Unfortunately, he simply wasn’t a good enough player. I also bet that every NFL GM and NFL coach wants to see a day when it is not a big deal to have a player who is gay. They just do not want to invite a media circus for a player who is unlikely to stick with the team. Lastly, maybe I am naive, but I believe that, within ten years, there will be many openly gay players in the NFL. It will just take an openly gay player with clear NFL talent to break the barrier (in the regular season).
Speaking of “clear NFL talent”, let us now return to the “D/A Scale”. The NFL is as cutthroat a business as exists in this world. GMs and coaches used to get several years to build a team, but those days are long gone. The Jets fired John Idzik after two years of being GM, and many Jets fans are now calling for Mike Maccagnan’s head after two years at the same post. The Browns seemingly change coaches, GMs, and QBs by the week. It is a “win now” league. Greg Hardy proved himself to be as big a scumbag and threat to women as one can be, but the Cowboys kept him onboard because he was a great football player. Adrian Peterson missed nearly a whole season for being a child abuser, and the Vikings could not wait to welcome him back the next year. For the Cowboys and Vikings, they felt those two guys were on the good side of the “D/A Scale”. You might not like it, but don’t shoot the messenger (me). Meanwhile, Ray Rice never played again after the elevator incident. Is Ray Rice that much worse of a human being than Hardy and Peterson? No, in fact, my gut tells me he is a better person than the other two. After all, he has been the most remorseful of any of the three and has recently done community work to prevent domestic violence. If someone were to say that one of the three has bettered himself after committing his horrible actions, Rice would be the clear pick of the three. However, Rice was winding down as a running back and had dipped to the bad side of the “D/A Scale”. Therefore, he is out of football – but not because of the elevator video…just as Tebow’s religious habits are not keeping him out of the NFL…just as Sam’s sexuality is not keeping him out…just as Kaepernick’s kneeling is not keeping him out. It is simply the “Distraction/Asset Scale” that is keeping these players out of the league. These players all reached the points where the marginal benefit of their football ability had dropped below the marginal cost of the distractions with which they would saddle an NFL team.
Our decisions in life always come down to trying to have marginal benefits exceed marginal costs. This is especially true in business, and the NFL is the perfect example. Over the past year, I have had countless conversations with people about Kaepernick’s kneeling. I believe that an American should always honor the flag and stand for the national anthem. I believe that there are many good ways to protest but that kneeling for the anthem is not one of them. Meanwhile other people defend his actions as an appropriate means of protest. That said, this debate is no longer the issue when it comes to Kaepernick’s current unemployment. Today, his unemployment is not about whether he was right or wrong to kneel. It is about teams not wanting to spend every day answering whether their unlikely-to-play backup quarterback was right or wrong to kneel. Big difference. Kaepernick’s employment status is not about protests, love of country, hair, or any reason other than the “Distraction/Asset Scale”. If a team felt Colin Kaepernick could help them win, he would be on that team. If his assets outweighed his distractions, Colin Kaepernick would currently be on an NFL roster. The same goes for Tebow. The same goes for Sam.