Questioning the questions

NFL draft prospects sometimes taken aback during interviews

The Associated PressMay 5, 2010 

Some of the queries are just weird. Occasionally, they're intrusive and in questionable taste.

Following the storm surrounding Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asking Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute, for which Ireland later apologized, NFL rookies at minicamps last weekend told The Associated Press they fielded some oddball inquiries from team executives before the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals fourth-round pick Geno Atkins said one club, he couldn't recall which, asked him about his sexual orientation.

"The only unusual question I got was if I was straight or gay," said Atkins, a defensive tackle from Georgia whose father, Gene, played 10 seasons in the league. "And that was about it.

" 'McDonald's or Burger King?' I think 'pillow or blanket?' was another one. Those were the strange, unusual ones I got. I was like, 'What does that have to do with football?' I think they were kind of trying to loosen me up a little bit."

Or tighten him up. The interviews are designed to test a young player's demeanor as much as a 40-yard dash is used to measure his speed. So potential draft picks have to be prepared for outlandish questions, even if they never get them.

They've also got to be ready to get baited.

"Some of the interviews were different," said Dallas Cowboys second-rounder Sean Lee, a linebacker from Penn State. "Like I had one team that really came and criticized me and the school I was at, and they're really trying to just get you fired up. They're really just using different tactics to try to see you face adversity, how you react to somebody getting on you.

"That was probably the most unusual thing I had, somebody came at me and said 'I've never seen a guy from Penn State make plays.' Really, you just have to keep your cool and come back with passionate but respectful answers."

Most teams begin the interviewing process at the NFL combine in February, when a player might meet with a dozen or more clubs in one day. It's a monotonous process for the collegians, and sometimes just as tiresome for the front office executives conducting the sessions.

Still, there is a certain protocol, something Ireland admittedly violated with Bryant, who was suspended for most of the 2009 season for lying to the NCAA about his activities with Deion Sanders.

"My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I'm considering drafting," Ireland said in a statement. "Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions. Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him."

Others embarking on NFL careers said they experienced nothing like the Bryant-Ireland incident.

"No, nothing that I just wanted to go Incredible Hulk on somebody," said Cowboys safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a fourth-round pick from Indiana-Pennsylvania, a Division II school.

"I've never been asked anything like that," added guard Jacques McClendon, the Indianapolis Colts' fourth-round choice out of Tennessee. "You just know these teams want to get whatever information they can. If they're going to invest that kind of money in me, then you have to be cooperative with the process."

Teams also send along a packet of questions for players to answer. That might lack the personal touch but can be effective in its own right.

The packets are where the dog-versus-cat question often comes up. Generally, those questions are within the bounds of good taste.

"No, no. I didn't get any of that. That would be a whole entire different level," Lee said. "That'd be a lot tougher to deal with."

Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster, a second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs, did have one team go "American Idol" on him.

"One coach asked me to sing," McCluster said.

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