It’s almost here. Big weekend. Life-changing weekend for you and your families.
You are going to hear a lot of things throughout the course of the next several days leading up to the draft, straight through the completion of your first season. Sometime between Thursday and Saturday you may hear your name called. You may not. You may go in the early rounds. You may not go at all.
You will hear a lot of things about yourself in the media, some positive, some less than favorable. Expectations. Hype. Where you’ll go in the draft. Why you’re falling to the later rounds and the reasons for it. Opinions. Criticisms.
Fans will cheer with your selection. Fans will boo with your selection. You will hear sports pundits across the nation declaring you are everything from the next greatest whatever to, “I cannot understand why they drafted an unproven commodity with that pick.” And best believe you’re going to hear Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay face off at length on ESPN arguing the finer points of when you should/if you should/and where you should go in the draft.
Media and front offices alike will talk about your personality, your skill set, your background, your life, your college career, your NFL expectations, and your character. That’s right. Your CHARACTER?!? Let’s stop here for a moment, because this is perhaps THE most important and defining aspect of what opportunities will await you both during and after your playing days.
Issues surrounding character and personal conduct have the potential to derail a promising career, and in Roger Goodell’s NFL, it is no secret what will happen to you if you violate the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Across the sports world, we have all witnessed how the mighty have fallen due to poor decision making and bad crisis management. So please understand, your success is not entirely predicated on your ability to make plays. It ultimately comes down to what type of person you are both on and off the field and you need to understand what is expected of you.
Like it or not, agree with it or not, you are a role model to others. Your family, your friends, and children in this country and around the world look to elite athletes because of the special talent you have. So remember, to whom much is given, much is expected. That is reality and you have to accept it.
It’s fine to take care of your families and yourself, but be smart about it.
As you transition into your new life and lifestyle, keep the following in mind:
1. Your talent makes you special on the field but it does not make you better than other people. It will afford you many luxuries, but it is not a license to “wild out.” It does not put you above the law. Your life is officially under the microscope and the world is going to watch you grow up, wait for you to screw up, and see how you will react. Look, you’re going to make mistakes. The pressure is going to be tremendous. But if you limit your mistakes to what you do on the field, what you do off of it will enhance your ability to create a post-NFL career while you are in the league.
2. Kill the entourages and eliminate ALL distractions. Don’t assign titles and give jobs to people who have no experience in this arena. I’m not saying cut your crew or cut your boys loose, but make sure they add value to the equation – YOUR equation. You are the sum of the parts here. Build a strong, solid team around you — lawyer, agent, strategic PR/communications team, marketing, financial manager, etc. Trust me, the money you will pay to have solid people in your circle of trust protecting your name and brand, and working in lockstep as a unit, is nothing compared to the amount you will lose if you screw it up.
3. Think about the financial and social mistakes made by other athletes that cost them their fortune, fame and/or freedom. Millions in lost endorsements and salary, prison sentences, financial ruin, social embarrassment, and the untold and often permanent damage to their reputations and don’t be that guy.
4. Stop focusing on the bling, the cars, the homes, the toys, the women, the excess. It’s fine to have a few things, but be smart about it. You do not want to end up like so many others before you when your playing days are over. Enjoy the moment, but start focusing on the future.
5. Understand we see this every day in our line of work and no one is immune. You see, one of the most important aspects of what we do for a living is reputation management and crisis communication. Avoid the pitfalls by being prepared with a solid plan and team in place. And remember, one of the best ways to make sure you keep your reputation intact is simple — do the right thing – all the time.
This is your career gentlemen. This is your future so take the reputation management component as seriously as the on the field aspects of your game. Prepare, focus and eliminate the distractions. You don’t mess around making sure you are prepared to play the game on the field, so don’t play games with your reputation off of it. It’s not worth losing everything you’ve worked for your entire life because it can all come crashing down in a matter of minutes.
Good luck this weekend.
Wesley Mallette is Co-Founder and CEO of Comment Communications (formerly known as Elevation Sports & Entertainment) a strategic communications firm specializing in media training, crisis communications and broadcast training for athletes and sports executives. A former Division I football player and decathlete, Mallette has led communications efforts for some of the world’s finest brands including MTV Networks, Black Entertainment Television, and Limited Brands, Inc. (Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works). For more information about Mallette and Comment Communications, please visit here.