Sunday, February 4, 2018

Battling the NFL Shortage

Well, that, of course, was clickbaity, because there is no NFL shortage, no lack of players to put their bodies on the line to play football. And yet we continue to see pieces about how the teacher pipeline is drying up. So, since I'll be ignoring the Super Bowl today, I thought maybe I could be a little sporty in this space and ask the question-- what difference between these two endeavors could explain the differences in staffing issues?

It's not like NFL play is all glamorous. It's physically demanding, often with consequences for the rest of the player's life. There's a ton of travel, and an entire industry devoted to second-guessing your every choice. So it's not like there's no downside.

Still, the pay is pretty good. Fabulously good if you are a top player. Nobody running an NFL tam says, "Look, we're just going to pay this salary, and if the players don't want to stick around, we'll just fill the spots with someone else. If we have to, we'll just drop all the usual requirements and hire some skinny small guys who think they might like to try it even though they never played in college or high school. They probably won't last long, but we can just replace them with some other warm body. I mean, who cares if we are turning over half the team every year."

Nobody in the NFL says that because nobody imagines you can just player-proof a team by coming up with a system so foolproof (developed by guys who never played the game) that you can just plug any warm body into any position and it won't make any difference. No, the NFL recognizes that it takes players with particular gifts, skills, and experience, and if you want them, you'll have to make them an offer they're willing to accept. Professional football teams are not composed of easily-replaced, highly-interchangeable widgets.

Nor can we underestimate the amount of esteem that comes with the job. Sure, there are folks who are unimpressed by professional athletes, and it is definitely concerning that you can be kind of rapey and still be a well-regarded hero. With that much money and attention on the line, there are a host of abuses that can become a problem. But just look at all the support they get-- a massive staff, spare-no-expense facilities, an entire infrastructure devoted to helping them be their very best.

I live in football country. One of my former students became an NFL pro, I work with a guy (substitute teacher and coach) who had a good career in the seventies, and one of our great home town heroes was a successful NFL coach. I always have students who aspire to a sports career, and very little seems to affect that front end interest in the Football Player Pipeline.

The bottom line is that the NFL doesn't have a player shortage because they work hard to make sure they don't. They don't try to devalue the job and players, and they don't lower their standards so that they can get by on the cheap. Yes, the comparison isn't perfect-- the NFL has fewer total slots of to fill, and their treatment of linemen is somewhat crappier than their treatment of a star quarterback. But when I hear someone else bemoaning the teacher shortage [sic], I'm always reminded of enterprises like the NFL where management doesn't try to pretend they want the best, but does whatever they need to do to get the best. This is markedly different from education, where our words indicate we want the best and the brightest, and we want to get them the best possible tools and support to do their job-- but our words say that we really don't care about any of that. Get in your room, settle for the salary we want to give you, stop asking for supplies we won't get you, if you're nice to the office secretary she might do you a single favor some day, and, yeah, maybe we'll get you a complete class set of current textbooks, someday.

When you really want champions, you find a way to attract and support them. Otherwise, you just have to hope that they love the game well enough to devote themselves on their own.

And because I know you've been thinking about it as you read this post, let me leave you with this classic Key and Peele sketch.


  1. I will be surprised if the NFL lasts more than another decade. Viewership is declining quickly, largely I think, because we are now aware that every play we are watching someone destroy their brain. That is why I am not watching anymore.

    For me, one of the reasons I will not be watching the game is the death of Mike Webster. I am sure I don't have to tell you, but others may not know who he was. He died at 50 of a heart attack, having been homeless for years. He might have been the first member of the NFL Hall of Fame to be homeless, the first with 4 Superbowl rings to live in a pick up truck, but what I know for sure is that he was the first NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE.

  2. "Stop asking for the supplies we won't get you." Now that is a deep burn for me. My principal regularly asks me what I need, I tell him, and he says to order through the department chair, who refuses to do so. I have stopped trying to figure out who's the bogey. All I know is I hate the BS because my students simply have to do without. Really, do these people not have the thirty dollars needed to buy my mathematics classroom a decent pencil sharpener?

    1. How about when your school is overcrowded and there aren't enough books....which means that no one gets a book. All the classwork and homework are dittoes. Then the Superintendent gets in a pissing match with the teachers and supplies are restricted...including reams of paper, toner and copier ink. As a parent volunteering in the school, I was appalled.

    2. The paper & copy machine maintenance budget here in MoCo must be the from the same pool as the textbook budget; my younger child (7th grade now) has never seen a textbook since all the worksheets are in the curriculum (or made separately), with books being read in English class pretty much the only exception. 10th-grader FINALLY has a textbook for the first time in AP Government.

      For years I gave reams of copy paper to my kids' elementary classroom teachers every Christmas instead of gift cards or actual gift-y gifts. I know teachers who have hoarded, over the years, boxes and boxes of office supplies - pens, pencils, sticky notes, scissors, index cards, and yes, even copy paper - hedging against these times.