It Ain't Easy Being A Future NFL Superstar

What's it liked getting grilled by the media seconds after you're the first pick in the NFL Draft? Start with terrifying, deblitating, and eye-opening.

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Complex Original

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“With the first pick in the 2016 Speedman Draft, Team Speed Stick selects...Macklin Stern from Complex Media.”

As a kid, I always dreamed about getting drafted into the NBA by the New York Knicks. But today, it’s a deodorant company that’s calling my name.

On this brisk Wednesday afternoon in New York, I have the opportunity to attend an event where I get to meet and hang out with two of the most highly touted rookies in this year’s NFL Draft class—Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack—and spend a little time in their shoes.

Stumbling upon the midtown Manhattan event space where the Speed Stick Combine is being held, the friendliest, most soft-spoken bouncer I’ve ever met lets me in. It’s a small space with about 100 people hanging around. Emerging from the crowd is a hulking figure, decked out in blue Speed Stick garb.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Myles,” says the 20-year-old stud linebacker from UCLA who is projected to be a top 10 selection in next week’s draft.

Listed at 6’1”, 225 pounds, Jack would legitimately break me in half if he ever tried to tackle me. His body circumference is double mine, easily. But he’s kind and conversational. With a warm smile, he tells me this is his first day he’s ever been in New York City, and that he wishes he could stay for longer.

Next, I’m introduced to Ramsey, and we exchange pleasantries. The FSU standout, national champion, and deemed (by some) as the best player in the draft, exudes a serious confidence. He’s focused and ready for the league. He should be off the board by the time the Jaguars are selecting with the fifth pick.  

Before I can ask Ramsey if he was able to get his hands on any sweet pairs of Jordans pre-release (he just inked an endorsement deal with Jumpman), I’m quickly shuffled to a small stage. A dude in a navy suit stands at a podium and starts speaking into a microphone while a crowd assembles in front of him.


“You’re up!” says the suit. Jack, sensing my cluelessness and anxiety at the situation, informs me what’s about to happen.

“You’re getting drafted,” he says. “Go in for the hug. Dap him up. Smile for the cameras. But makes sure it goes smooth.”

I’m nervous.

“Relax, man. It’ll be cool,” he assures.

My name is called, and I carefully walk up each step, making sure my feet plant firmly. The fake commissioner has him arms out wide in a defensive stance, and I go for the handshake. Wrong choice. He’s ready for the hug.

After an awkward embrace, I put on my white Speed Stick draft day hat and force a smile to the cameramen. My “big” moment ruined by my awkwardness—less swaggy than a pea. But then I’m like, wait, this isn’t real. I’m not actually being drafted, nor will anyone outside of this room see my blunder.

For Ramsey and Jack, it’ll be different. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will call their names in front of real cameras, a real audience, and millions of real people watching from home. Not to mention, those millions are armed with the lethal weapon known as social media.

Trigger fingers can quickly turn to Twitter fingers. All it takes is an awkward smile, stumble on stage, or a Clyde Frazier clown suit and you’re viral. You may not even do anything wrong, except get the call from the last team you want to play for. Next thing you know, Beige Cardigan pastes a Jordan crying face over yours and the photo blows up.

If you’re in the limelight in this day and age, it’s not a question of if you’ll be put on blast, but when and how much traction it’ll gain. When Jack told me to make sure my introduction to the NFL “goes smooth,” he wasn’t trying to add pressure. He was looking out for me. He knows he faces an unforgiving inferno.

As first round picks typically do, I rush to a press conference to discuss my recent selection. Three chairs, three mics, and about 10 eager reporters (who are these guys?) are waiting. I sit down in the middle chair and feel sweat slowly sliding down my forehead. As I wipe it away with the sleeve of my green flannel shirt (appropriate attire for draft day, no?), Jack and Ramsey plop themselves down on either side of me. My gargantuan protectors.

Public speaking and I go together about as well as Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. I field the first question to which I genuinely do not know the answer: “Wit or witout?” Having never ordered a cheesesteak with or without fried onions in Philly, I had no idea what the dude was talking about. I must have asked, “What?” at least three times, then just finally said, “Wit.” I’m 0-for-1.

The next question was in Spanish. Seriously. My high school level of Spanish, which I haven’t practiced since, you guessed it, high school, had me answering a long pregunta with, “Sí.” Not only did I sound stupid (again), but I also likely offended half the room. 0-for-2.

The reporters laugh, but Ramsey, a former teammate of Jameis Winston, helps me out. He tells me the reporter is wondering what I’m most excited about now that I’m in the NFL. I decide to take the Smash Williams route and say the millions of dollars and the hunnies. The room groans. I’m being a cocky SOB in my presser, so the “nice” folks on social media surely won’t spare me a roasting.  0-for-3.

This time, Jack bails me out, pulling me towards him (and almost out of my chair) and whispering “family” in my ear. Scurr. My short-lived arrogant persona dies and I explain how taking care of my parents and siblings is the No. 1 priority.

Someone would have recorded my money-hungry, thrill-seeking diatribe on their smart phones, and posted the video to Instagram with the caption, “Your first overall pick, Douchebag McGee.” Then, I would have been ridiculed on the midnight edition of SportsCenter for being a selfish player, alienating my new teammates in the process.

So what did I learn from my draft day experience? It’s easier asking the questions.

Honesty isn’t necessarily your friend when it comes to speaking to the media, nor is being your real self. So how can you win? It’s almost like you have to learn another language for those circumstances, and you need to become fluent. Fast.

You’re not excited about the prospect of receiving a multi-million dollar contract. You’re excited about being able to support your family. You’re not dying to play for New York Giants. You’re just thankful for the opportunity to put on an NFL uniform in the first place. #Blessed.

While my insertion into the spotlight was for all intents and purposes a joke, it made me realize the pressures that guys like Ramsey and Jack—these kids who are coming into more success, fame, and meticulous scrutiny than most of us will experience in our entire lives—face before donning an NFL uniform. You have to be on at all times, as well as extremely polished, which is tiring and nearly inhuman.

When I asked Ramsey to describe how desperately he wants to be selected No. 1 overall on April 28, he said, “Badly.” All I could think about was how much the cameras would be trained on him if he dropped lower than expected. The meme menaces and gif-making goblins that lurk in front of their screens all day would jump on any kind of reaction and send the Internet into a frenzy.

So what did I learn from my draft day experience? It’s easier asking the questions.

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