IRVING, Texas — Several NFL team owners took offense at league meetings on Wednesday when Executive Vice President of NFL Football Operations Troy Vincent called the NFL’s scouting suit “characteristics of a ” slave auction,” several people in the room told CBS Sports.
Vincent spoke at the property Wednesday morning, announcing changes to the combine that would involve a less tedious medical evaluation process and more scrutiny of the questions teams ask potential candidates. The Combine and other pre-draft ratings have been criticized for what some consider to be dehumanizing methods of obtaining player information.
“We just feel like the overall experience, talking to the players, we can be better in that particular aspect,” Vincent told the media later in the day. “So there was, I would say, a good discussion about what it looks like, where we could be, bearing in mind that the suit is the player’s first experience with the National Football League, and in that experience, there must be dignity.
“It’s a great opportunity for young men, but there has to be some form of dignity and a level of dignity and respect as they go through this process. That was the general theme around our combine . [discussion.]”
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Sources within the Ownership Meeting revealed details of what Vincent said among team owners which included the reference to a slave auction. At the meeting, Vincent’s comments elicited an immediate response from Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who stood up and recorded his infraction, sources said. Blank, who has a strong diversity and inclusion record during his two decades in the NFL, took umbrage at the idea that he was participating in or helping to support an event that could be seen as racist.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones followed Blank on the mic. According to sources, Jones spoke of the “privilege” of playing in the NFL. He noted how many thousands of college football players there are, how only about 300 are invited to the combine and how even fewer are drafted.
Steelers Owner Art Rooney II went on to note that crews need the information the combine needs to make informed decisions, sources say. Rooney, who is chairman of the NFL’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee which declined to comment on the minutes of the meeting.
So Invoices owner Terry Pegula took the microphone to make a point that confused many in the room. According to sources, Pegula didn’t condone the combine weigh-ins (which aren’t televised), but seemed to play devil’s advocate, which is ultimately what people want to see.
He then attempted to bridge the gap between soccer and women’s tennis, the sport of his daughter, Jessica, who is ranked at No. 3 in the world. The Bills owner appeared to lament the sometimes-revealing outfits he said female tennis players are encouraged to wear. Some sources interpreted his comments to mean that sports all have some level of exploitation. Another source simply called them “inconsistent.” The conversation ended shortly after Pegula’s confusing comments.
The conversation was not entirely new, as the harvesting process was discussed and changed over time. But the tone of this discussion was remarkable. Vincent, a former Pro Bowler, has been with the NFL since 2014 as a football operations leader, and he’s tackled topics like kneeling during the national anthem and driving hiring gaps while serving. of, in the words he used in an interview with The Roota “bridge builder” from within the league office.
Vincent brought up the subject of the combine, as the whole pre-draft process has been overhauled in recent years. The league no longer issues the Wonderlic test, an aptitude test that has been criticized for bias and relevance. Prior to this, the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl removed public measurements and weighings.
The combine is crucial to NFL teams for medical information and player interviews. The league has already changed the schedule for next year’s combine, as CBS Sports first reported two weeks ago, after consulting with players and their representation on best practices moving forward.
“The biggest thing players have raised over time is, ‘I’m coming, I’m excited for this, and I have to go for an additional medical test. And I’m sitting in a hospital waiting four or five hours on an MRI machine. I have to have multiple meetings about the same type of injury,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “For us, it’s really about trying to make that experience better. And they talk about lack of sleep because they come in at 1 a.m. and then have to be back at 5 a.m. and then they have to play on the field. And this is an important element for them because they want to perform at the highest level.
“I think all of that is why we want to improve that experience for the players to come, making sure they have the best performance capability. And make sure the clubs obviously get that information, but they have to get that in appropriate and professional manner.”
Medical examinations can take players an entire day. They go in groups of shifts to different examination rooms and hospitals throughout the day, checked by doctors from many teams. Hundreds of scans and MRIs of the players went through doctors over the week.
The league doesn’t seem to be finding all the scans, stings and pushes needed. Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills gave the example of a college player who may have injured his knee months before the combine, with a post-surgery MRI already completed. Sills said doctors could collect that MRI rather than forcing the player to take another one in Indianapolis.
The combine is also known for the questions teams ask prospects. They go from weird and bizarre to inappropriate and, technically, illegal in a job interview. Cornerback Eli Apple said in 2016 a team asked him if he liked men. Former NFL defensive end Obum Gwacham said in 2015 a team asked him when he lost his virginity. Perhaps the most infamous interview question came in 2010 when then-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Ireland later apologized to Bryant.
According to sources, Vincent told a story at the ownership meeting about an unnamed black player who was asked by an unnamed team to rap during an interview. It wasn’t clear if the player had a background in music or rap, but the implication was that – at the very least – a white player wouldn’t have been asked that question.
“When we speak with [players] during their draft experience,” Vincent said, “we ask the question: is there anything we should be doing since your first interaction with the National Football League? And these men are open and sometimes they share things with you, and you scratch your head. Often you are embarrassed. And you can tell those are things we can fix, those are things we can adjust to improve that prospect’s overall experience.”