NOEL KING, HOST:
The NFL draft is coming up later this month. And so, of course, a lot of the talk is about who has the physical skills and the mental makeup to become the next big football star. One highly accomplished quarterback has been flagged for what's being called off-field issues, and commentator Mike Pesca has some issues with that.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Here is one pro scouts report on UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. You watch him, and it's like he was born to do it - the way he sees the field, the way he sees the offense - total command. But then this - he will be subjected to a predraft process focused mainly on his injury history and some personality questions that have surfaced. Personality questions - vague, ominous, could mean arrests or academic chicanery or even smoking the devil's weed. Nope. What Rosen's personality questions refer to are incidents like when he wore a derogatory reference to President Trump on a hat while playing at a Trump golf course or when he opined that the demands of college football were incompatible with a college course load. And Rosen's not wrong on that point. Nor was the economics major off base when he took to Instagram to note the incongruity of his college signing a record $280 million shoe deal while still claiming amateurism.
Rosen's UCLA coach, Jim Mora, told him that such a statement distracted from what should've been an important day for the university. The problem, to Rosen's critics, is that he deviates from orthodoxy. In the hidebound world of football, such deviations are what gets labeled baggage. Mora tried to explain Rosen's behavior by saying he needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn't get bored; he's a millennial; he wants to know why; millennials, once they know why - they're good. Seems insightful to me, but to the NFL establishment, it was as if Mora said, Josh is a fairly committed satanist, but his ritual slaughter of goats can occasionally lead touchdowns.
Millennials as suspect, millennial as privileged, non-team-players - now, here's the thing. Of almost 2,000 players who appeared in an NFL game last year, all but 10 are millennials. If Josh Rosen weren't a millennial, he would be worthless, a 37-year-old NFL rookie. Actually, a demographic case can be made that some of the younger NFL players, including those of Rosen's age, aren't millennials at all, but post-millennials, Generation Z. A lot of NFL fans and media members want their players, especially quarterbacks, to stand athwart societal trends and embody traditional virtues, which do not include Instagram or disrespectful hats on the golf course.
But the secret is that for all the palaver about Rosen's character among the palavering classes, NFL decision-makers - the people picking the players - actually have a more evolved view. Good NFL executives know that to win is to embrace a wider range of personalities than what constitutes the protagonists of a John Ford movie. The grumpy graybeards might gab on about baggage and personality issues, but at this point, it looks like whatever baggage Rosen has will soon be stuffed with millions of dollars eagerly paid by an NFL team.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAPPER BIG POOH'S "JUST FRIENDS [INSTRUMENTAL]")
KING: That was sports commentator Mike Pesca. He's the host of Slate's daily podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.