Jobs that require high performance from mind and body require extra effort to achieve individual and team success.
Yet, the NFL has become an enterprise that limits the amount of time a player and thus a team can devout to their craft. Striving for excellence was outlawed in the league’s labor agreement that was signed in 2011.
On Monday, the last batch of NFL teams will begin their nine-week off-season programs. That group includes the Chiefs, who will gather at the team’s facility in the Truman Sports Complex for the first time since the loss in the first round of the playoffs back in early January. Teams with new head coaches got a jump on their start date, opening two weeks ago. All of the clubs are limited in the amount of organized team activities (workouts, meetings and no-pads practices) they can hold.
Other than these nine weeks, players are not allowed to meet with their team’s coaching staff. They are not allowed to go into the team’s facility and run through a physical workout under the direction of team trainers or strength coaches. They can get treatment for injuries and ailments that they carried out of the 2013 season, but that’s the only active involvement allowed under the rules between players and the team.
Think about that for a minute in another context ‚Äď a bright young cello player works with one of the top orchestras in the country. But his practice time is limited by rules developed by the cello players union. He must go months at a time without playing his cello or listening to recordings of his performances. Does that make better music? Does that make any sense, for the musician or his employer?
Would other professions or business put up with similar rules limiting the search for achievement?
Yet, the owners and players agreed to the restrictive rules that were brought to the negotiating table by the union. Ownership had no problem accepting the rules for two reasons: 1.) It did not cost them any money and 2.) “Football” people were not involved in the negotiations, i.e. coaches and general managers. The union interest was driven by the desire for less organized exertion for its members in an attempt to limit injuries. Both sides did not express any thought that the rules could affect the quality of play, and if that happened, so be it.
Last week a situation became public that was a possible violation of the rules. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning visited with University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa. On the same day, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was also at the headquarters of the Crimson Tide, meeting with Saban.
If they met with the Alabama coaches together, then Manning and Gase violated the NFL off-season rules on contact between players and coaches. That would subject the Broncos to league discipline, costing them a fine, a lost draft choice or both. Saban has come out and said the visitors did not arrive together, or talk with him in a single meeting, but the league will investigate anyway.
But what if Manning and Gase arrived together? What if they quarterback and coordinator spent a day, a week or a month in Tuscaloosa, sharing a room at the Red Roof Inn as they spent hours picking Saban’s brains? What if they dined together at The Original Dreamland Bar-B-Que Restaurant over a slab of ribs and a pitcher of Budweiser? Is this something that should be anybody’s business but the Broncos and the men involved?
Throughout his career, Manning has been driven by the desire to improve, not settling for less than a step above his best past performances. He’s one of those athletes that always seem to do more than anybody else in preparation. That’s also why he achieves more than anybody else in production. Manning works on his body, his mind and his knowledge like few others have done in the game’s history.
Article 21, section 1 of the current labor agreement reads:
“No player shall be required to attend or participate in any offseason workout program or classroom instruction of a Club other than as provided in Article 22. Any other Club offseason workout programs and classroom instruction sessions shall be strictly voluntary and shall take place in the manner and time period set forth in this Article.”
If a player does not want to participate, he faces no discipline. What else is needed? To keep up with more dedicated and hard working peers, a player learns quickly that he must participate in off-season work to have a chance of staying in the league. How is that a bad thing?
NFL players and coaches in search of knowledge and better performance should not have to be hamstrung by silly N.C.A.A.-like regulations about whether they can meet and talk beyond hello, how are you. This is professional football, and pros turn over every stone to improve. At least, the very best ones do. They do it physically. They do it mentally.
There should be no restrictions in the quest for greatness.