The sexual assault allegations against 24th pick Conley expose problems in the NFL
THE 2017 NFL draft is done and dusted and, as always, the first round was full of surprises. The first 32 picks are held for players who are “generational” talents, college players who are the best at what they do and will become the face of the franchise for at least the next 12 months.
Because they will be heralded in front of their peers, media and the public, teams know that their first-round picks will be under more scrutiny then any other selections.
Anything they do on or off the field will be examined under a microscope and because of that, teams feel it is vital that they do not mess up the pick.
That is why I was quite shocked, as was the rest of the American football world, that Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley came in at 24 overall to the Oakland Raiders. Conley is a great talent and worthy of being taken in the first round, many felt he would be a top-10 player in the long build-up to the draft, but days before selection, Conley was accused of rape.
Though Conley strenuously denies the allegation, many pundits felt that the accusation would lead to the cornerback slipping down to the lower picks, if he’d be chosen at all.
In 2015, Louisiana State University guard La’el Collins — and touted top-10 pick — went undrafted after news that he was due to speak to police about the killing of a pregnant woman he used to date.
Collins was not a suspect in the shooting but told teams that if he was selected after the third round, he would sit out the entire year and enter the 2016 draft instead. While I don’t entirely understand his logic, 31 teams passed on him and the Dallas Cowboys picked him up a week later as an undrafted free agent. People naturally assumed that Conley would suffer the same fate.
On April 9, Conley allegedly met a woman in a Cleveland, Ohio, hotel lift and asked her for a foursome with his friend and another woman.
The woman claims that she was raped in the hotel toilet and then kicked out of the room after repeatedly telling him to stop. Conley’s lawyer says she left after a “consensual sexual event” that was not intercourse.
Police administered a rape kit that night and Conley reportedly talked to the police and gave a DNA test on Monday.
Hours before the draft Conley took a polygraph test, reportedly at the behest of another team, and passed it — which was seemingly enough for the Raiders to take a chance on him.
However, there was still unease around the entire situation and analysts still felt it was a bad move. The draft is the culmination of years of hard work and the chance for a player to finally get paid for what they love.
The financial difference between being taken in the first and second round is huge. To put things in perspective, the number-one pick in 2016, Jared Goff, signed a $27.9 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams while the 12th pick, Sheldon Rankins, received $12.8m from the New Orleans Saints.
In the second round, the average contract is worth around $5.1m over four years and if you are taken in the third, you will earn $3.3m should you stay with a team for four years.
If the potentially career-ruining allegation turns out to be false, there’ll be huge sympathy for Conley, but if he’s guilty he should never have been included in the draft in the first place and questioned must be asked about why a fuller investigation did not take place before he was selected.
I understand that there was a three-week difference between when the rape allegedly took place and the night of the draft but the sport should not have taken priority. If it means Conley misses time and a contract, so be it.
Details of the story from both sides appear to be changing and it would have been wiser for the Raiders to wait until drafting him. That would have meant Conley missing out on millions initially but the Raiders could have given him a contract worthy of a top pick.
Yes, the salary cap means that this may not have been possible but it would have been handled better. This is where the league needs to step in and come up with some rules.
This isn’t the first time a college player has entered the draft with a criminal case hanging over them and unfortunately I doubt it will be the last. The NFL has to get ahead of this and set clear guidelines on what to do if a player is in trouble with the police.
Tell teams that a player under investigation is not eligible for the draft, that players with certain convictions cannot play in the league and maybe, just maybe, you will clean up the sport and stop young college players from committing serious crimes.