The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Balancing Ego


A player in the NFL is blessed with incredible riches: fame, fortune and adulation. With these riches come many certainties: pain, criticism, disappointment and public failure.

Succeeding in the NFL means overcoming such adversity and failure. This is the only common denominator in the league. The question is not whether a player will get knocked off the horse, it is what he does when he gets back up on it. The players that learn to overcome defeat are the ones that ultimately hoist the Lombardi Trophy over their heads at the end of the season.

An agent or adviser's job is to keep a player's ego in check when the positive press is pouring in, and also keep his confidence and motivation up when faced with challenges. This is a tender balancing act that, when executed delicately, can help a client's career stay on track.

This year's NFC championship game presents an interesting example of two players who have seen more than their fair share of successes and failures. Kurt Warner and Donavan McNabb took complete opposite routes to the pinnacles of their profession. Warner, bagged groceries and played in the Arena League, McNabb was a number two Draft selection. Yet both players have overcome adversity and won.

A veteran league scout once said, when evaluating a quarterback's potential, "The key to watching a quarterback whether in college or the pros is not what he does when he completes passes early in the game but what did he do on the play after he was driven to the ground by an angry, fierce and strong defensive lineman, when he is bloodied and battered. That is the key."

Knowing that players will suffer setbacks and failures is the key to preparing them to overcome these obstacles. I love to tell all players when they embark on their professional careers in the NFL that the only certainties as they move forward are: they will fail, they will throw interceptions, they will give up a sack, they will give up a touchdown, they will fumble a ball, they will miss a tackle, they will drop a touchdown pass, they will miss a block.

Knowing these realities going in assists prepares players to handle the inevitability. Then the key is to continue having these discussions on a routine basis as the players' careers move forward. An advisor has to make sure players learn from the mistakes and do their best to avoid repeating the same errors. It's how they get back on the horse after falling off. Sometimes these can be serious conversations, and other times they can be just ball-busting. Either way they are important to have.

Another key is to give honest advice about where the player stands and what he needs to improve upon professionally. In the NFL, if you are standing still you are losing ground. A player must constantly re-invent himself every day, every game and every year to succeed and compete with younger players. Delivery of this information becomes tricky, as players must have confidence in themselves as players and athletes (thus you can't beat them over the head with negative information), and on the other hand they must be told what they need to hear. Like a strong two-way friendship, this can be done in a way that helps without undermining confidence. Honest interaction is the key to long-term harmony.

McNabb and Warner have both learned how to handle professional adversity and failure. Both have clearly developed systems where they learn from their mistakes and miscues and improve. They have both proven they can be knocked off the horse and get back on, leading their troops to victory. This weekend will showcase both of these fine warriors as they assist their teams in reaching the height of success in the greatest of team sports.

By Peter Schaffer  |  January 15, 2009; 8:23 AM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Peter Schaffer , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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