In the week before the NFL Combine, former NFL defensive end Austen Lane turned heads by tweeting some questions he claims teams asked him during the Combine's interview process.
When a scout asked me at the combine if I had to murder someone: Would I use a gun or a knife? pic.twitter.com/R5BHMxiDM7— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
When a scout at the combine asked me "boxers or briefs". pic.twitter.com/6IwjeszYBD— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
When a scout at the combine asked me... "If you could kill someone and not get caught, would you?" pic.twitter.com/mwK5UX8gvW— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
Certainly, NFL teams have the right to find out more about the players they're about to invest in by interviewing them. But every year, we hear about players who were asked questions that were, well, less than important. It's no different this year.
New weirdest combine Q for Brandon Doughty, WKU. "You're on a mountain in Alaska on a bus going 100mph. Where are you sitting on the bus?"— Roe RcAtee (@3k_) February 25, 2016
Quite frankly, I can't understand the benefit of asking players these dumb questions. And yet year after year, we get multiple reports of NFL teams asking players the same types of questions that have nothing to do with football.
Which animal are you?
An offensive tackle this year confirmed he'd been asked whether he'd prefer to be a dog or a cat.
Western Michigan OT Willie Beavers said the Falcons asked if he'd rather be a cat or dog. He said dog.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) February 24, 2016
For the record, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said he would pick "the more explosive" animal, although he claimed the team's personnel side wasn't responsible for the question.
But this isn't just one rogue team asking this kinda silly question. A story on Cam Newton from earlier this year reminisced about the way this prompt led to one team to question Newton's character in his pre-draft process:
During an interview with a team psychologist of an AFC North team at the combine, Newton was asked whether he sees himself more as a cat or a dog. When he suggested that the question was not relevant and that he saw himself more as a human being, he was immediately asked whether he had a problem with authority.
Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood didn't get this question, but he was asked what type of animal he'd like to be:
"I never even thought about it before. I sat there for at least two minutes thinking like, 'OK, I'm dependable. I'm a silent killer.' So the closest thing I thought of was a snake, a python. Nobody hears it coming but when it comes it's going to kill you."
I guess the idea is you're learning about the player's personality? Like, cats are loners and dogs are members of a pack, so dog people will be better team players? Or maybe NFL teams just really like those quizzes your friends share on Facebook that find out which house pet or Disney princess you are.
The Cleveland Browns' MacGyver obsession
Current Jaguars defensive end Chris Smith said the Browns asked him about what he could do with a brick:
"The Cleveland Browns asked me ‘How many ways could [you] use a brick in a minute?'" said Smith. "That was probably the weirdest question that was asked to me, but everyone else was kind of easy going. They want to see how much of a student of the game you are."
I was going to do my own list to answer this question, but then I remembered that I sit in the same office as my colleague Claire McNear, whose family operates McNear Brick and Block, which of course is one of the West Coast's finest suppliers of building products, including, but not limited to, bricks. With her family's expertise, we've assembled an extremely long list of things you can do with a brick.
- Build things
- Extremely heavy paperweight
- Smash stuff, like windows
- Kill a person
- Drop it on somebody's foot
- Hold open a door
- Stabilize a lopsided table
- Cook brick-roasted chicken
- Put it in the upper tank of your toilet to reduce water consumption when you flush
- Bring it on a hot air balloon and/or boat as ballast
- Grind it up and make it into the red stuff on baseball infields
- Accidentally invent glass
- Tie the brick to your tooth and throw the brick and remove your tooth
Caveat: McNear Brick and Block does not endorse the usage of bricks or other building materials for murder and/or pillaging. I would imagine they do not endorse dropping bricks on people's feet, either.
The Browns have also reportedly asked players what they could do with a paper clip.
ANYWAY: I guess this is meant to test players' critical thinking abilities. But football critical thinking might be rather different from "here is a brick!" critical thinking.
The Oedipal question
One of the questions Lane brought up that almost seemed too wild to be true was about his mom -- specifically, whether he thought she was hot:
When a scout at the combine asked me if I thought my mother was attractive. pic.twitter.com/FPwc6OVdtj— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
Apparently he wasn't making this up! NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler seems to have heard about this question again this year:
Strangest interview question I've heard a NFL team ask a prospect so far: Do you find your mother attractive? #NFLCombine— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 25, 2016
Furthermore, Miami once famously asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute, although the reported exchange made it seem more like an extremely awkward misunderstanding than a horribly misguided question:
"My dad was a pimp."
"What did your mom do [for a living]?"
"She worked for my dad."
"Your mom was a prostitute?"
"No, she wasn't a prostitute."
I have no idea what NFL teams could glean from this. Maybe a player confident enough to assert he has the hots for his own mother is so unflappable you have to draft him? Maybe the team is trying to prep players for trash-talking opponents? Maybe the GM is just lonely and curious?
Strangest question DE Obum Gwacham has heard at the Combine: "When did you lose your virginity?" (He didn't answer)— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 20, 2015
Gerald McCoy was asked if he wears a G-String while playing:
"Someone asked me if I wore a g-string or a jock strap when I played," [Gerald] McCoy told the NFL Network set Monday to disbelief, laughter, and amazement.
I'm not even sure what the intention of that question was. But it doesn't seem good!
This year, we had this:
#Baylor OT Spencer Drango said 1 team at combine asked "Would u share your internet history w/ us?"— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) February 25, 2016
Drango: "Sure. I search a lot of food."
Technically, that's a question about a player's trustworthiness -- would you keep secrets from us? But I don't think it's a reach to say a question about a player's Internet history is kind of asking whether he'd be willing to admit what type of porn he likes.
We can laugh at the funny questions about sex, but they're potentially problematic. Remember, the NFL has warned teams that they aren't allowed to ask questions about players' sexual orientation. After all, there are federal laws against using sexual orientation as a discriminating factor in a hiring process. So they know they can't ask players directly about that. But it seems they're still interested in asking questions that could cause players to discuss their sexual experiences and preferences.
At the very least, these questions are uncalled-for intrusions on player privacy. At worst, these questions are deliberate attempts to glean information about the sex lives of players that they aren't allowed to ask for. Quite frankly, it's not the business of an NFL team what consensual sex its players have or aspire to have, and the idea that they'd potentially use such information to decide which player to draft is worrisome.
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NFL teams can and should use the Combine's interview process as a way to find out more about their players. A draft miss is not only a waste of money, but also of a team's No. 1 opportunity to add football talent. There are things teams can find out in these interviews about a player's attitude, football IQ, fit, and other information that can better inform this very important decision.
And sure, NFL teams should want to know if players could potentially get into off-field incidents that could be potentially damaging to the team's reputation. But I'd recommend they focus on having appropriate, meaningful responses to players doing horrible things rather than trying to gauge whether players could do horrible things via coded questions.
How do these questions help? I sincerely hope that no NFL team has ever decided between picking one player over another player due to their respective responses to "are you a dog or a cat." These teams can watch every snap in every college game every player played, and the Combine provides them with every conceivable physical measurement. The answer to these inane questions shouldn't add anything.
It's possible that teams aren't looking for the actual answer to the question, but rather gauging a player's ability to respond to a strange moment in a pressurized environment. But still, there has to be a better way to figure this out than asking them how they could use a brick.
That said: If I ran an NFL team, zero cat people. Not one.