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Wonderlic exposes flaw in media
Every February, a 20-something-year-old NFL Draft prospect does poorly on the Wonderlic test at the Combine, is told the score will never be made public and is then ridiculed and mocked for a month when said score is made public and is published on various blogs and web sites.
To my fellow writers, editors and football media folk — I beg of you this year: Let’s break the trend. If an agent, a source, or a member of a team’s front office leaks you a “bad” Wonderlic score — you know, one of those single digit ones that could make a prospect’s life a living hell for 30 days — exercise your right to not publish it. Don’t tweet it. Don’t blog about it. Don’t put it on your bottom line tickers. Save your punchlines. Use them somewhere else other than at the expense of 20-year old kids.
I know this is a plea that will fall upon deaf ears, but let’s take the high road this year. If and when you’re told a player, like Morris Claiborne reportedly did 12 months ago, scores in the single digits on the Wonderlic test — greet it with a smile and a shrug. Don’t rush to report it. The results are supposed to be kept secret. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even insists teams will face “significant discipline” if they leak a player’s score.
And yet, every year in the days following the Combine — we get a kid, his score and the Internet’s version of open mic night at the local comedy club. The only thing missing is the brick wall and the two-drink cover.
Other than damaging a kid’s reputation and hurting his feelings, what’s the goal of publishing a young man’s crummy Wonderlic score? If it’s the nerds’ (us, the media) attempt to disparage the jocks (the athletes) — once and for all (pushes glasses up higher on the nose) — I see it as no different than an act of bullying.
What was done to Morris Claiborne in the moments after his score was leaked last year — widespread ridicule online, sarcastic tweeting, pundits even insisting his draft stock took a hit — wasn’t the sports media’s finest few hours. Make no mistake, there were no Pullitzers handed out for the investigative handiwork needed to secure, publish and mock Claiborne’s score.
Claiborne, of course, found the whole thing absurd. What’d he care? After being drafted sixth overall — yes, he was still drafted sixth overall, even after a single-digit Wonderlic score — by the Dallas Cowboys in April, he addressed his Wonderlic exam: “I mean, I looked on the test and wasn't nothing on the test that came with football, so I pretty much blew the test off," Claiborne said. Could you blame him?
Knowing when one train passes Station A and when another train passes Station B isn’t exactly a great indication of whether or not you can cover Calvin Johnson or DeSean Jackson. The test doesn’t have any questions about zone blitzing or the read-option. It’s an esoteric aptitude test. One, that I’m told by multiple sources, rarely factors into whether a team will draft a prospect or not.
“Well, it’s certainly not the first thing we look at when assessing a player’s value,” one NFC front office executive told me this week with a laugh.
After being drafted, Claiborne said he would have tried a bit harder had he known what a big deal would have been made of it.
"If I knew there was going to be this much heat about it ... Yeah," Claiborne said. Claiborne said he knew the score wouldn’t impact when or where he was drafted, but said he didn’t appreciate the mockery he was faced with after it was leaked. "When it came out, some of the things that were said ... I'm human, so I had a problem with some of it, but I didn't let that get me down," Claiborne said. "I know what type of person I am. I know that test doesn't reflect on how I learn or what type of a person I am."
If I were a player, I wouldn’t even take the Wonderlic. According to the NFLPA, it is by no means required. If a prospect wanted to this week, he has every right to walk into the examination room, see the test, draw a cartoon, and hand it right back to the moderator.
“They don’t have to take it,” one agent told me. “But the pressure to take it is enormous. If one player — regardless of his ability — opted to skip the Wonderlic, there’d be all sorts of questions asked. He’d be an outlier. In the months leading up to draft weekend, the last thing you want is a red flag about not cooperating.”
But what if all the players walked out of that room? What if they all drew squiggly lines?
“If every prospect refused to take it,” the agent said with a curious look and a gaze into oblivion that indicated he hadn’t imagined such a scenario, “I guess that’d be that. There’d be no Wonderlic that year.”
After a beat, the agent added, “But I’d imagine there are much bigger things worth protesting in this world, right?”
The Wonderlic was the end all, be all as far as NFL Draft aptitude tests went until this year. Starting Thursday, over 300 NFL Draft prospects will be asked to take an additional aptitude test — one developed by Cyrus Mehri, the Washington D.C.-based attorney, along with Harold Goldstein, an associate professor of industrial/organizational psychology at Baruch College.
This one, unlike the 12-minute Wonderlic, is a 60-minute computerized test. The developers say the aptitude test will examine what motivates players, their learning styles and their psychological breakdowns.
"I am really excited about it," Mehri said earier this week. "The league has been really innovated and has decided not to stand still. They've tried to improve the game. There are a lot more of the state-of-the-art approaches to kind of collect information that's very much related to the success of the NFL players."
Sound like another Wonderlic?
Mehri insists its not, "It's really very different from that (Wonderlic), which is a 12-minute test that focuses on what I call book smart," Mehri said. "This has a lot more breadth. It's a one-hour test with more time to do it. It's also tailored for NFL players as opposed to the public at large.”
The new test, unlike the Wonderlic — which is often given during the interview process in typical 9-5 professions — the new test is geared towards football. Imagine that?
"One of the former GMs that we talked the most to about it, Ernie Accorsi, said this is a game-changer,” Mehri added. “This is going to be really useful for the GMs. Time will tell. I'm sure after a period of years we'll be able to refine it and get it better."
Old test, new test — can the kid play football? Is he a decent person? That’s all I’d really care about if I were an NFL GM. In a "Moneyball" world where every piece of data plays into big money decisions, I understand the value in having as much information as possible. Nate Silver be damned, I'm just not sure it's all that relevant.
In the end, I just hope we hear more about actual football this Draft season and less about poor Wonderlic scores. There’s nothing humorous about soiling a kid’s reputation.
Then again, it is a tradition.
I guess I just don’t get the joke.