The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Desire to Change Matters


"Character is an issue only in the absence of extreme talent" is a prevalent philosophy in the NFL, and professional sports today. However, a cursory examination of success in the NFL (and for that matter all of professional sports) shows that character does matter, and teams that sacrifice it for immediate reward are shortsighted. They may win a few battles, but will never win wars and championships. Teams, at times, like to operate on a strict set of double standards, and these double standards are the ones that get them in trouble and cost them. As the great Head Coach Vince Lombardi said: "It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men."

The reality is that character wins games. A player or person with character will indelibly succeed in a team environment, where those without will fail. When the going gets tough, the players without character are not trained in their mind and conscience to succeed and they will find a way to lose or fail. At the wrong time, such players will make a mistake, or make an individual act, which will destroy the team concept and prevent success.

While character is an easy concept to understand in a vacuum there are, as in all walks of life, many exceptions to any rule. The incredible pressure, along with the need to win in professional sports, makes men with otherwise exemplary motives and intent do things that compromise their principals. For sure, any team would select a Barry Sanders or Jerome Bettis, over a Travis Henry or Mike Vick, if given full knowledge. However, those choices are rarely available. Teams have to make gray decisions based on immediacy and desire to win, which sacrifices their public strategy. The question then becomes at what point are these qualities negotiable?

That being said, character is not black and white. Teams have to make subjective value decisions of human beings, who by definition are imperfect creatures. The key becomes determining to what extent the negatives are acceptable.

The best jumping off point is to look at the person and see if he truly loves the game. If so, then you can get around other issues. The next step is to examine, in detail, the character flaws. A single DUI (while a horrendous and thoughtless act with potential serious and harmful results) does not necessarily put a person's character question. The same can be said for (and again, not condoning such actions here) sampling of marijuana, infidelity, or yelling at a coach etc. Other actions, such as domestic violence, repeated poor decisions, using and distributing serious street drugs etc., may fall in the opposite category.

People also need to be given second chances if they are first willing to accept responsibility for their actions and confess a significant and strong desire to change. No one is perfect. It is only the person who fails to learn from history, and repeats his mistake, whose character can be fairly called into question.

The last area of examination is background. Not all professional athletes were blessed with ideal home situations, and some, by merely surviving until the age of 21, have out-kicked the coverage on their life expectancy. Some young athletes have come from such disadvantaged backgrounds that it is difficult to judge them on the same standards as young men and women who were blessed with a model childhood. It cannot be taken for granted that learning right from wrong is not intrinsic, but rather comes from a laundry list of factors.

It is the job, and moral responsibility, of any agent to accept all clients and to try and help those who either need assistance, or who have made mistakes in the past, provided they are deserving of a second chance. The key to assisting such players is to start with an open and honest dialogue, and make sure they understand that they have made mistakes from which they need to learn and move forward. In this regard, actions speak louder than words.

Apologies are a good place to start, but words are easy. It is imperative to have the client show his strong desire and convictions through hard work and actions. If the player is willing to accept these tenants and move forward, then an agent, with a strong relationship and track record for honesty and veracity with teams, should be able to get a team to at least examine whether their client is worthy of a second chance.

Once accomplished, the agent, player and the team must come up with strict sets of rules and standards, above and beyond those set for the average player. The Cowboys have done this with Adam "Pac Man" Jones this season and, while he is still not out of the woods yet, their strict code of conduct, and his desire to abide by it, have paid off for all.

Character is never expendable; it pays dividends in all aspects of professional sports, and life. It is impossible to truly win without it. However, humans are prone to errors and everyone deserves a second chance... so long as they understand the rules, abide by them and make amends.

By Peter Schaffer  |  October 2, 2008; 8:21 AM ET  | Category:  Crime , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Mr. Schaefer, while I agree with almost all of your conclusions, I have to say you are an exceptionally bad writer. You might want to take some lessons in how to write clearly and concisely. I'm not even going to touch "out-kicked the coverage of their life expectancy." HUH??? Geez, WaPo, screen your contributors a little better; this is embarrassing.

Posted by: Snarky Squirrel | October 2, 2008 4:21 PM

Schaefer writes an incredibly poignant metaphor... Snarky Squirrel doesn't get it... And Schaefer is a bad writer? This from someone who can't figure out that "almost all" is redundant? Maybe the WaPo needs to begin moderating comments?

Posted by: Silicon 28 | October 2, 2008 4:30 PM

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