NFL

Character important in NFL Draft

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining FOXSports.com. Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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Tiger Woods is an unethical, line-crossing, ruthless mofo, or so goes the narrative about him after this Masters.

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I do not believe this view, merely sharing what seems to be popular opinion based on reaction to his weekend at Augusta National.

He took a drop, a drop he knew was illegal.

He gifted himself two yards, yards that became a national focus after a phone call from a “concerned” viewer, and then became further proof of his narcissism, his lack of immoral absolutism and his fundamental flaw. The problem with all of this hand-wringing and judgment passing is we all have our two yards. They take the form of cheating on a test, or on your spouse. They are the shortcut you take on the financial thing, or your commitment, or the doing unto others as they would have done unto you.

The problem, as I see it, is we only despise this two yards in others, use it as a basis to judge their lack of character while also using it to justify our own lack of character. It walks so many to this intersection of “everybody else is doing it . . .” and “character no longer matters.”

The thing is this is a lie — a lie we tell ourselves.

Character absolutely matters, and the NFL Draft is maybe the last place in sports where this axiom holds. This is why, while Nike recently launched an ad declaring “Winning Takes Care of Everything” after Tiger had propelled himself back to No. 1, league teams were busily interviewing players in advance of draft day.

The questions were at times ridiculous, intrusive and borderline illegal — you cannot ask a prospective employee if he’s gay, nor should you. They also were instructive. What NFL teams have learned — often painfully — is winning in college does not take care of everything. Nor do 40 times, raw talent or a crazy amount of potential, especially if combined with a decent amount of stupid, irresponsible or immature.

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This is why, on draft day, what smart teams desperately search for are good guys. The term probably requires a definition.

By good guys, I am not talking about do-gooders, or choir boys, or those who look like good guys. This has zero to do with tattoos or upbringing or random silliness that many like to apply when convenient. It has almost everything to do with decision-making.

The thin line between a good and bad guy is often determined in a second, by what we choose to do when faced with a decision.

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from Tiger, it is even the most talented athletes among us can get derailed by idiocy — with sex, with money, with alcohol, with drugs, with peer groups, with our bodies, with our decisions.

This is not to say the NFL will not take a bad guy with a history of doing the wrong thing if there is a huge difference in talent. It has. It will again.

What has changed is how willingly teams jump into these relationships nowadays (not nearly as much), and how blindly (not at all). In almost every draft room around the league, there are guys on the board who are in a box. There is a box around their names despite their talent, their stats, their records, their pedigree.

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The boxes used to be reserved for the guys who already had screwed up. Now they are being used on ones whom NFL teams fear might. This is not an exact science, as people change — for better and often for worse, especially in an environment such as the NFL, where the money is sick and attracts the worst kind of enablers.

This is why character matters, because character is what makes the difference in that instance when you find yourself staring down your two yards, whatever form they might take.

Getting behind the wheel or calling a cab.

Sleeping with the person who is not your spouse or going home.

Joining the bar fight or walking away.

Or in the case of Tiger, taking two actual yards.

Absolutely, character matters. We’d all just be wise to handle our own two yards before getting on Tiger about his.

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