NOTE: OBR publisher Barry McBride followed up on this story over the weekend in the OBR Blogs
Very recently, a local newspaper (followed quickly by such entities as ESPN) offered a negative report regarding "voluntary" (cough, cough) player participation in a football clinic being conducted by head coach Eric Mangini in Hartford, Conn. Mangini's camp provides children in Grades 8-12 an opportunity to work with players and coaches from the Cleveland Browns, as well as other representatives from NFL teams and colleges.
The report discusses rookies and agents being miffed at the head coach, since it's viewed that Mangini is basically forcing the young players to road-trip for Mangini's personal football camp. The report is not entirely correct. While the vast majority of the players have no issue heading to Hartford with the head coach, some agents are less than thrilled that this 'voluntary' act is realistically 'mandatory', since players who decline may find themselves out of the coach's favor.
While there has been some low-level complaining, mostly from agents, the NFL league office was contacted about the 'voluntary' trip to Hartford, Conn. by the Browns rookies and staff. The league office replied that no rules are being broken and that there was nothing exceptional about the trip -- outside of the good nature being displayed by Browns players and staff in traveling to conduct the event.
At this critical juncture of their careers, rookies and others who want the highly paid opportunity to serve as an NFL player have to do "whatever it takes" to win a job. Granted, the trip to Hartford is voluntary, but for a player, the opportunity to continue to gain hands-on coaching within the head coach's framework is essential.
Of course, a player rejecting a ten-hour bus ride and weekend with kids could potentially harm his opportunity with the team. Mangini's philosophy is rather simple, however: He wants all involved to buy completely into his program, which includes the rookies and others seeking to make an NFL roster.
Right or wrong, this is Mangini's way. A player who wants to latch onto the dream must win over Browns coaching staff.
And yes, there are situations when "voluntary" participation is really mandatory. In nearly every walk of life, in nearly every career, and not just on the football field. There is nearly always some griping about this sort of enforced community involvement which generally disappears immediately after the event. Such things are hardly newsworthy.