“SLAVE AUCTION,” NFL Exec Troy Vincent’s grim comparison of the league’s scouting combine to slavery has team owners on the edge
Troy Vincent is not satisfied with the way Black athletes are treated at the combine.
The NFL recently concluded its league meetings earlier on Wednesday. During the meet, however, the comments of the league’s current Executive Vice President of Football Operations and former cornerback Troy Vincent stirred up a controversy. The topic of discussion was the NFL Combine, the annual event held by the league before the draft.
Every year, the top scouts of all 32 teams across the NFL come to the combine to get a better look at the draft prospects. The combine is a big event for athletes as their future depends on their performance here. While it is a big opportunity for athletes, Troy Vincent does not like how the Combine has been conducted so far. He classified the event as one that has characteristics of a “slave auction” as per sources who spoke to CBS Sports.
The league executive came under fire from owners for his comment. Vincent announced changes to the existing format of the combine. The league has now made it a much more athlete-friendly process, as it will now include a medical evaluation process which will not be as tiresome. In addition to this, the league is also bringing in accountability and tightening their vigilance around teams by observing the type of questions asked of the draft prospects.
Over the years, the combine has faced a lot of flak as some of its methods of getting information about players have been dubbed as dehumanizing. Here’s what Vincent had to say, “We just feel like the overall experience, talking to the players, we can be better in that particular aspect. There was a good discussion around what that looks like, where we could be, keeping in mind that the combine is the player’s first experience with the National Football League, and in that experience, there has to be dignity.”
The league is revamping the NFL Combine in an attempt to make it less tedious for the athletes:
Vincent stressed the need to treat prospects better at the combine. “It’s a great opportunity for the young men, but there has to be some form of dignity and level of dignity and respect as they go through that process. That was the overall theme around our combine.” While this is all true and noteworthy, it was the executive’s comparison of the event to that of a ‘slave auction’ that fired owners up.
Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, was the first to chime in, he is known for having a strong stance for diversity and inclusion in the league for over 20 years. He was not happy with the phrase used by the executive, as it could possibly be interpreted as him being a part of an event that is racist in some form.
Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys also stepped in and reminded those present in the room regarding the ‘privilege’ of playing in the NFL (A spokesman for the Cowboys affirmed that Jones used the term ‘opportunity’ and not ‘privilege’ later.) Jones put into perspective how big of a deal the combine is for athletes. With thousands of players aspiring to get a shot to try out to be in the NFL, it is usually just 300 or a little over 300 players that get an invitation to the combine.
Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, added his two cents and stated that the teams require some information at the combine in order to be able to take a thorough call on whom to draft. Rooney also happens to be the Chair of the NFL Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Terry Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Bills, made an unusual comparison of football to that of women’s tennis, a sport in which his daughter Jessica is ranked No. 3 globally.
Mr. Pegula brought in the topic of the outfits worn by female tennis players and tried to relate that to the topic at hand. His comments could have meant that in every sport, there is some amount of exploitation involved. However, one of the sources in the room dubbed them to be “incoherent.”
Troy Vincent has been an outgoing executive who has shared his thoughts on sensitive issues. When the issue of kneeling during the national anthem arose, or the issue of discriminatory hiring practices, he has always taken a stance and not shied away from addressing them. He spoke on the topic of the NFL Combine, as it is one that has changed over the years.
Some of the older procedures, such as the Wonderlic test, an exam that tests the aptitude of the athlete by testing their basic math, common sense, reasoning ability, vocabulary, analogies, and geometric figures, amongst others. It did not make any sense to have this test in the NFL. The issue of players having to undergo multiple medical tests has also been a point of frustration for athletes.
Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, had this to say regarding the issues raised about the medical tests that athletes are required to go through before the combine. “The biggest thing that the players have raised over time is, ‘I come in, I’m fired up for this, and I have to go and get an additional medical test. And I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for four or five hours on an MRI machine. I have to have multiple meetings about the same type of injury.“
He continued, “For us, it’s really about trying to improve that experience. They talk about lack of sleep because they get in at 1 o’clock in the morning and then have to be back at 5, and then they have to perform on the field. And it’s an important element for them because they want to perform at the highest level.
As of now, the medical examination mandated by the NFL takes up an entire day for players. The process is a slow and tedious one as it is conducted for each position group and each of them has separate rooms assigned. Doctors are all over the place and it is not uncommon to see hundreds of scans and MRIs of players which have been recorded earlier in the week lying across the tables.
Are all of these necessary? As per Chief Medical Doctor Allen Sills, it is not. The professional gave an instance of a collegiate-level player who could have suffered a knee injury months before the combine and may have gotten his post-op MRI done by the time the combine comes around. Sills adds that doctors will get their hands on that MRI instead of having the player get another one at the location of the combine.
Another issue that has been raised regarding the combine is the absurd line of questioning adopted by teams. Eli Apple, the cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, stated that in 2016, he was asked by a team if he liked men. He was essentially being questioned about his sexual orientation, which is not legal for an employer or prospective employer to do. In 2015, defensive end Obum Gwacham raised an issue stating that he was asked by a team when he lost his virginity.
Dez Bryant has had one of the worst questions that could have been asked of any prospect. In 2010, the former GM for the Miami Dolphins asked him if his mother was a prostitute. The GM issued an apology to the wideout later, but what was the point of even asking such a question in the first place?
Troy Vincent brought up a story during the ownership meeting that had an unnamed player of color being asked to rap during his interview. The background of the player was kept anonymous so we cannot tell if he had any background in music/rap but the point of this story probably was to show that if a white player were in his place, that question would probably not have been asked to him.
“When we talk to (players) during their draft experience, we ask the question; Is there anything that we should be doing from your first interaction with the NFL? Those men are open and sometimes they share things with you, and you scratch your head. Oftentimes you’re embarrassed/ And you can say these are things that we can fix, these are things we can adjust that make whole prospect experience better,” Vincent concludes.
While the NFL does have a lot of work to do when it comes to reducing the diversity gap and heading toward a more inclusive league, these reforms are a positive step in the right direction.