I recently received a question for my weekly mailbag column. E.J. said he was concerned about the character issues that have cropped up among Kansas City Chiefs players.
I am very curious about the character assessments that the team goes through during the draft process, or even when they are signing a free agent. Do you know who completes these assessments and what is included in the process?
I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to say that E.J. isn’t the only Chiefs fan who has this concern.
We know, of course, that NFL scouts, general managers and coaches meet with prospects during the draft process to try and get their own measure of a player’s character. But we have never been aware of anything more involved than these personal (and non-professional) evaluations of a player’s character.
This is not to say, however, that prospective NFL players are not subject to testing.
Since 1970 — when Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry began the practice — NFL teams gradually began using the Wonderlic Contemporary Cognitive Ability Test, which was originally developed by Eldon Wonderlic in the 1930s to measure a person’s ability to learn and solve problems. Today, it is part of the process at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Wonderlic test is often perceived as a measure of intelligence. It is and it isn’t — as former Chiefs offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz explained on SBNation a year ago:
The Wonderlic is a 12-minute, 50-question test. That’s 14.4 seconds per question, close to the amount of time you have to process a play call, get up to the line of scrimmage, survey the field, and snap the ball. That’s the purpose of the Wonderlic. It’s not measuring overall intelligence. The questions aren’t terribly complicated. It’s a test of mental processing. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to succeed in the NFL. You have to process information quickly and efficiently.
Wonderlic scores are often made public, so there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it does little to predict whether a particular player will perform well in the NFL.
Since 2013, another test has been administered to combine participants: the NFL Player Assessment Tool (PAT). The PAT is a 50-minute exam that was the brainchild of attorney Cyrus Mehri, who was one of the co-authors of the report that eventually led to the adoption of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Mehri believed that the Wonderlic had a built-in racial bias and didn’t specifically address the traits that NFL teams needed.
“How do you have Eli Manning scrambling for his life and throw that ball in the Super Bowl?” Mehri told The New York Times in 2013, referring to Manning’s famous throw to David Tyree in the 2008 title game. “Aptitude tests suggest to me you’re testing how smart you are. It’s so much more than that.”
Designed specifically for the NFL by Harold Goldstein, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Baruch College in New York, and Kenneth Yusko, an associate professor of human resources at Marymount, the test is intended to provide a window into the motivation, competitiveness, passion and mental toughness of a prospect.
But like the Wonderlic, the PAT is meant to measure a player’s potential performance on the field. Off-the-field issues — which can now play a large role in a player’s career arc — are not addressed.
That could be changing, however — thanks to a new agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association that was announced on May 20.
The agreement is in two parts. According to NFL.com, the first part addresses pain management.
As part of the pain management initiative, a Joint Pain Management Committee, which will include medical experts appointed by the NFL and union, will be formed to create uniform practices and policies for clubs regarding the pain management and use of prescription medications in addition to research regarding alternative methods.
The second part concerns the mental health of NFL players.
The league and union will form a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which aims to focus on educational programs regarding mental health for players, coaches, club personnel and players’ families. This Committee will also work with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations to promote awareness.
NFL clubs will be required to hire a Behavioral Health Team Clinician. These individuals will be required to be available to players at the facility at least 8-12 hours per week and conduct mandatory educational sessions for coaches and players. The Clinician will also be required to compose a Mental Health Emergency Action Plan for the 2019 season.
This announcement probably escaped your notice last month — possibly since it had nothing to do with the possibility that the Chiefs could make a deal to sign Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson — but over the long term, this could be a significant development for NFL teams.
In the wake of the announcement, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones expressed support for the new measure, via ESPN.
“Whether it’s children or whether it’s people you work with — if you’re Keurig or Dr. Pepper or if you’re AT&T — everybody has employees who have challenges and certainly we feel like that it’s not a black mark,” he said. “It’s a sickness and you want to help people who need help.”
Many teams have had mental health professionals available to their players on an outpatient basis. What’s new in this mandate is that teams will now be required to have these professionals in their facilities on a regular basis, where they will be better equipped to not only help players with problems but also identify the players who need help.
The Carolina Panthers — a team which has been pushing for this change — hired a full-time team clinician just after the beginning of last season. The first team to hire theirs in the wake of the new NFL/NFLPA agreement is the Chiefs, who announced the hiring of Dr. Shaun Tyrance on Friday.
But according to old friend B.J. Kissel on Chiefs.com, this isn’t just because of the new mandate. Dr. Tyrance — a licensed therapist — has been a consultant to Chiefs’ vice president of administration Kirsten Krug for years. Last fall, he was approached about becoming the team’s full-time clinician.
“I didn’t take this lightly,” Dr. Tyrance told Kissel. “I interviewed with everybody, but I interviewed them as much as they interviewed me. I’ve never lived outside of North Carolina — that’s home — so to move my wife and my two young kids here, I wasn’t going to do that on a whim. I wasn’t going to do it on a hope or a prayer. To me, this is an opportunity that I think makes sense for the long haul.
“The thing that was unique about this opportunity was first, the level of buy-in that this organization has for this role was completely unique,” he continued. “I’ve talked to other professional sports organizations and clubs over the years and this was probably the first opportunity where I said, ‘They see the value in the role and it’s really fully integrated across the organization.’
“That was truly the thing that really caught my eye about this position. They wanted to be on the front end of what we’re doing in the mental health space across the NFL.”
Veteran NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been advocating for similar changes for years — ever since he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder while playing for the Miami Dolphins in 2011. Marshall told the Orlando Sun-Sentinel that this new mandate is “a start, but not the finish line.”
“This is a call to action to take the case of our minds as serious[ly] as they do our bodies,” Marshall said. “Hopefully they don’t put the clinicians in the back of the building, next to the janitor’s closet.”
But that isn’t what’s happening at Arrowhead.
According to Kissel, the Chiefs are doing much more than fulfilling the minimum requirements of the new mandate. Dr. Tyrance has an office in the facility and has been given full access. He is present at every practice and every team meeting.
It’s not hard to imagine that Dr. Tyrance’s duties will eventually extend to helping the Chiefs identify — and if necessary, help — players with character issues.
“My main duties are to support our players, their families, their friends, their significant others, their children — anybody that’s in their circle,” he said. “If they’re important to our players, they’re important to me. My job is to support them with any challenges, any issues or anything that they face on and off the field. I can’t be a face that they only go to when something is wrong — that’s not how I work. I’m always around and guys are in my office all the time, even when times are good. That’s a big thing for me.”
Dr. Tyrance has the background for the position. From 2007 until 2010, he served as director of sport psychology for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, providing counseling at the entire athletic department. He spent two years as director of sport psychology for Chip Ganassi Racing — a multi-car NASCAR team — serving the drivers and pit crew members. In 2010, he started a private practice in Charlotte providing mental health counseling and leadership development to individuals, teams and companies — including the Chiefs.
He will join the existing player engagement department, which will become a new business unit called player services under Krug’s direction.
“We’re all about the people here,” Krug told Kissel. “It doesn’t matter what the job is—whether it’s on the football side or the business side. We’re going to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to help our employees, coaches and players with everything they need, and bringing in Shaun Tyrance is a huge step forward for us in that way.”
“We are thrilled to add Shaun Tyrance and his unique experience in counseling to our team,” said Chiefs president Mark Donovan. “We pride ourselves on providing a complete package of resources to our players, coaches and staff for success both in the workplace and in life outside of work.”