“Draft Day” offers tips on what it takes to lead the country

It may be that the movie “Draft Day,” currently in theaters, is just a niche film for football fans. It’s for real fans who know the game; not those who go to the game and act as if it is an extension of a frat party.

Being engaged in this week’s actual NFL draft days (Thurs., May 8 – Sat., May 10) is of interest only to the fans who are curious about what is involved in building a team.

I had the pleasure of seeing the movie the day after watching the White House Correspondents Dinner on that big sports channel, C-SPAN. It may be surprising to some, but the skills that an NFL general managers and coaches need are remarkably similar to those needed by both top level government and media officials. For example:

Job openings:

  • President of the United States
  • General Manager and coach of Cleveland Browns

Skills needed:

  • Ability to evaluate talent
  • Ability to get people to work together.
  • Ability to sense what other people are thinking
  • Ability to understand your own needs
  • Ability to understand other people’s needs

How far could a president go if he/she could not evaluate talent? John McCain flunked his first big test in 2008 when he selected Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Barack Obama hit the jackpot with Vice-President Joe Biden as well as most of his cabinet appointments and White House staff. The ability to judge talent, and to understand people, is of high value in most walks of life. We all make mistakes, but for some the stakes are higher than for others. For the general manager of an NFL team, failure means being shown the way to the exit door, in all likelihood never to rise to such an important position again. For the president of the United States, it can determine whether or not his/her agenda for the country succeeds and whether he will return for a second term.

In sports, there’s always the question of team chemistry. How well do the players get along with one another? Does everyone know what his or her role is and can each player come through so that others on the team can properly utilize their skills? Are they competitive enough with one another to bring out the best in each other without tearing others down?

The same is true for the president. In the words of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the president frequently puts together a “team of rivals.” Can members of the team subdue their egos so that the decision-making process will result in desirable outcomes?

Many government officials work in the shadows of the decision-making process. The president may know a great deal about how they are doing their jobs, but the public is either clueless or possibly misled by rumors leaking out of the government.

Transparency is what makes most sports, particularly professional football, so interesting to watch. Along with the general managers and coaches, the public is aware of the players already on the team as well as the prospects that Draft Day will bring them. We can speculate about what a team should do with current players and how the draft should be used to improve the team. This can be quite enjoyable for fans, and beyond that, it can give fans an opportunity to test their judgment against the results of the future. This becomes excellent training for the lifetime skill of trying to “get a bead on others.

Like many, I abhor much of what goes on in football. The violence is not only extensive and regrettably essential to success. In many ways, the game is a substitute for war. It includes violence, demonizing, hype, excess, irresponsible behavior, “group think” and many other characteristics that are not helpful in trying to promote a just and fair society.

Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with football. I love all the strategy that goes into making a team, putting together a game plan, and reacting to success and adversity. I love the athleticism but I hate the violence and the bravado that often accompanies it. But on draft day, there is no blocking and tackling, no cheap hits, only mental gymnastics. That’s good for our minds, and certainly good exercise for anyone who aspires to be a leader of our country.