NFL Rookies Risk Embarrassment With Decision to Attend Draft

It’s a familiar scene to National Football League fans: beaming young athletes in tailored suits sitting awkwardly in the green room, ready to go on stage at a moment’s notice to hoist up their new jerseys. It’s also a gamble: Will the player in attendance hear his name called first? Maybe 12th? What about not at all?

A month ago, the NFL contacted the nation's top college football players, inviting them to watch this year's draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“It’s a tough decision whether to attend or not,” said Rick Smith of Priority Sports & Entertainment, a Chicago-based agency that has represented more than 30 first-round draft picks.

Among enduring green room memories is one from 2005, when cameras trained on Aaron Rodgers, the University of California quarterback who finally was picked 24th by the Green Bay Packers.

For what is comparable to a drawn-out legal proceeding on television, the sweaty brows of players waiting to be selected can be the most compelling drama. Last year, a combined 8.1 million viewers watched the first round of the NFL draft on ESPN or the NFL Network, an increase of 16 percent from 2012, but slightly below the 8.3 million viewers that tuned in 2010, when the draft first debuted in primetime.

“It’s not our intention to make anyone uncomfortable,” said Michael Signora, the NFL vice president of communications. Players are welcome to leave the green room whenever they choose, he adds.

Players Decide

Smith said the players, with his firm’s advice, make the decision to attend.

“We do our due diligence, but it’s still early in the process when we have to get back to the NFL and accept or decline the invitation,” Smith said. “So we tell our players where we think they’ll go, but we also tell them to understand that anything can happen.”

The NFL begins the invitation process in late February, around the time of the NFL Scouting Combine, where potential players are timed, measured and interviewed.

“We consider a number of factors,” said Signora. “Which players are likely to be selected early, which ones make for good stories, and also who has contacted us expressing interest to go.”

The most interesting storyline in the NFL draft this year concerns Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker who led his team to the national championship game and was later under scrutiny after acknowledging he lied to the media when he learned he was caught in a hoax involving a fake online girlfriend. He also underperformed at the combine. Te’o declined the NFL’s invitation to wait in the green room.

Some Volunteer

Some others enjoy the attention. “Each year, we have a lot of guys who aren’t likely to be selected in the first round ask us for invitations,” Signora said. “It’s an exciting series of events. They get to appear on a morning show on NFL Network, host a youth football clinic at a public park and ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange.”

This year, 23 players have accepted invitations to wait in the green room. Among them is Alabama offensive tackle and Smith’s client D.J. Fluker, who analysts predict will be selected in the middle of the first round. “We’ve done our homework and are confident he’ll be picked,” Smith says. “But D.J.’s also fine with whatever happens. It’s a big day for him, and he wants to share it with the people that are close to him.”

According to Smith, players like Fluker can rest easy. “What you saw with Aaron Rodgers will never happen again,” he said. “The problem was he was on camera the whole time -- the camera never moved. If that happened today, the NFL would call the player out of the room.”

Signora denies this. “There’s no edict handed down about how to run the broadcast,” he said. “Before the draft, we tell them that they’re part of the broadcast, and that there’s no guarantee how it will unfold. Once the players are in the green room, they’re on.”

In the end, Rodgers is better known for another performance before television cameras: He led the Packers to the Super Bowl title after the 2010 season and was the game’s Most Valuable Player.

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