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Draft Day!!

I was going to throw a post up here praising the cosmetic engineers at ESPN, who must have worked overtime for the past couple of weeks wiping the drool off of the chins of the on-air talent during commercial breaks. For the past couple of weeks, there's been hype layered upon hype leading up to today's festivities, the made-for-TV event known as the NFL Draft. In addition to being Christmas in April for all of those afflicted with Male Sports Answer Syndrome, ESPN has turned the event into one of their biggest (and most self-congratulatory) annual productions.

I have to confess that I did indeed tune in, so that I could see who the Bears were picking at #4, and I'm glad I did. The Bears drafted Cedric Benson out of Texas, and Benson was clearly overcome with emotion. After they did the obligatory League promo shots, ESPN interviewed Benson and it was pretty clear that his tears weren't tears of joy, but rather of relief. I give ESPN a little credit for letting the interview run as long as it did, but what Benson told perennially perky Suzy Kolber was that the entire process was demoralizing, manipulative, and abusive.

The fact is that we still exploit the hell out of these kids--at the top of the NCAA heap, there are a handful of "student athletes" who are making money hand-over-fist for their schools, and never seeing a dime of it. And after that exploitation, they go through a process where a (largely white) group of scouts, head coaches, and owners poke and prod at them and treat them like meat. Benson had to endure having his character questioned, not because of anything he's ever done, but because he was an African-American running back from Texas, and the last high-profile RB from UT was Ricky Williams, whom you might remember as the guy who recently committed the heresy of publicly admitting that football wasn't the most important thing in the world. After spending 4 years proving himself against the best teams in college football, Benson got to go through psychologically manipulative interviews (where his willingness to work hard was questioned because he had to reschedule an interview), artificial tests that are only fuzzily correlated with actual playing ability, and weeks and weeks of having his potential picked apart for no more reason than a couple of hundredths of a second in a 40 yard dash without pads.

Yes, these kids are lucky. Benson will make more money next year than I will make in my lifetime, but the Bears ownership will make more money next year than Benson will over his entire career. I don't suffer from illusions about the purity of sports, but I don't think that fans fully appreciate the degree to which the business of sports can psychologically abuse these kids, turning them into pawns or puzzle pieces. It's a process so dehumanizing that, at what should have been one of the happiest moments of his life, Cedric Benson was just relieved that it was over.

And of course, Boomer and the gang just moved on to the next pick, as though they weren't all complicit in this abuse.

I'm not sorry I tuned in, because it was that rarest of rarities on ESPN, an honest moment, one that said a lot about Cedric Benson as a person. He could never take a handoff in a Bears uniform, and I'd still be rooting for him.


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You are right on the money here, Collin. It almost seems a "Clockwork Orange"-like experiment is thrust upon these kids by the scouts and agents, and those that are left standing and relatively undamaged are those who come out of it in the top 15.

And Benson has held up extremely well, although you can tell it's taken its toll on him. The good news is, he could really, truly be a great runner for the Bears.

Nice insights.

I generally avoid the draft coverage because it's grueling on the athletes and me, both. As for Benson, very nice insights and observations. And, he should make the Bears a better team, and we all like that!

Yeah, I've been really annoyed at the many writers (I'm looking at you, Peter King) who have been so critical of Benson for what I perceive as a sincere emotional response. Maybe Benson's comments hit a little too close to home....

In other news, the Bears got a pretty good pick, I think, in former Bolier Kyle Orton in the 4th round.

Yeah, I thought Orton was a steal in the 4th rd. And double yeah, King's cavalier dismissal of Benson's emotions does more to prove the point than it complicates it.