By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It’s an odd thing, that walk on stage after a man hears his name called by commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft. You see that blank expression in his face as a sudden reality hits, a dozen emotions and thoughts colliding at once so that the computer monitor on top of those hulking shoulders that’s been grabbed and shaken by those at his table freezes momentarily.READ MORE: 2 Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against Rockton's Chemtool Plant
Though the guy knew — through every mock draft and predraft interview and agent phone call he overheard — that his name would be called, that look is telling. It’s human in this superhuman, showing that even he had the tiniest flicker of a doubt that this would happen. Until he heard his name.
He’s just hugged a cadre of giddy, tearful loved ones. He releases a huge sigh of relief that contains the prior life he is leaving, straightens out the tie and jacket of his super-special-gaudy-tailored suit and marches up there trying to look as composed as possible.
Whatever cool was held on to in that seemingly mile-long walk instantly evaporates with the patented Goodell Hug. His new boss’s boss’s boss says something bland, maybe mildly humorous and modified just for him —“Don’t want to crush that arm of yours” or “We need to get you a bigger ballcap to fit that hairstyle”— something that causes that employee laugh we’re all familiar with and all feel dirty for reflexively doing.
The great irony for this draftee is that it’s the first and likely last time he will hug this person of immense power he has yet to learn to despise. A quick photo op holding up jersey No. 1 follows, and the man is then shuffled away for interviews in which he must let the world know “What’s going through your mind right now?”
He’s now one of them — a professional football player in the most important sports league in the world. Whether tipping the scales at three-and-a-half spins or boasting speed that requires hundredths of seconds of consideration instead of tenths, he fits in.
Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has chosen not to fit in. Check that — the choice has been made that Winston not fit in. Whether it was of his own volition or the choice of the league’s Ministry of Truth, Winston won’t be attending the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago, even though many expect him to be the first overall pick.
Draft truancy is a rarity for presumed early first round picks and nearly unheard of for expected No. 1 overall picks in the televised multi-day spectacle into which the NFL Draft has been incredibly and, let’s be honest, frighteningly crafted. The last top pick in the draft to not attend the event was Dan Wilkinson, taken by the Bengals in 1994. Of top five picks of fairly recent vintage, only Philip Rivers and Joe Thomas did not show up to New York, where the draft was formerly held.
... League obviously wants all the top guys in Chicago. But @NFLprguy says ultimately, "It’s up to the individual player if he wants to go."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 16, 2015
If what NFL PR told Breer is to be believed (and it probably shouldn’t because it’s NFL PR), then what would compel Winston to skip out on the sports equivalent of winning an Oscar for best actor for his role in Roger and Me? Well, Winston’s decision is about fitting in, too.
Not only is he about to get paid a lot of money to play the most important position in sports, but Winston has that all-important brand to constantly consider. And he got a pretty late start on that, what with the shooting people with a BB gun, walking out of a grocery store with unpaid for crab legs and being accused of sexual assault — allegations that he took so seriously that he followed up by publicly yelling on campus an obscene meme to the delight of many onlookers.READ MORE: With Areas Of Naperville Devastated By Tornado, Neighbors Band Together A Night Later To Help Each Other
The segment of the public with a conscience hasn’t forgiven Winston for some silly reason, and it would seem that while maybe being a sociopath, he isn’t stupid. Staying home and “spending time with family,” usually the BS excuse given by famous people being pushed out of a job amid scandal instead of starting a job, is brandspeak for, “I’m going to get heavily booed on stage.” So best to not even show the face of famous athlete privilege then.
Pay no attention to the absent top pick. He’s not up there screaming “(Bleep) her in the (bleep)!” So that’s progress. Everything is fine. Football is good. Winston moves right into the fraternity with less of a bang than a finely crafted whimper. As it should be.
Winston’s is hardly the only look-the-other-way case in the NFL nowadays.
“Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after signing woman-terrorizer Greg Hardy recently. “We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well.”
See, the large crazy punchy man understands domestic violence. Whether he continues to perpetuate it? Another issue, but don’t worry about that. Focus on the important aspect of all this — Hardy’s deal from a football standpoint.
Regardless, Hardy fits in. All is well. Football is good.
The uptick in “early” retirements for NFL players? Quitters, they are. Your good ol’ football doesn’t need them. Plenty of other jobs are dangerous. Dudes getting decapitated in coal mines and stuff, ya know? You are a stable fan who doesn’t see the fallibility in the game (not saying there is, though!) as a reflection on your fan character. The machine is fully operational, no worries. Be excited.
Especially here in Chicago, where hosting the draft is a good thing, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The money is honest. The local suits in conjunction with your trusty NFL have the best intentions here.
The 2015 NFL Draft is going to fit right in here.MORE NEWS: Man Fatally Shot While Working On Car In Front Of His Fernwood Home
Follow Tim Baffoe on Twitter @TimBaffoe.