NFL coaches and general managers have been warned: Certain topics are off-limits in the interview process of draft prospects.
In the frenzy of player workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, which runs through Tuesday, it's the behind-the-scenes happenings that matter most to the NFL decision-makers.
Medical evaluations are part of that process. So are the players interviews – both formal and informal. Teams are allowed 60 formal player interviews lasting 15 minutes each at the Combine. But general managers, coaches and scouts have to be careful what they ask the prospects these days, especially in light of two prospects last year saying they felt they were asked inappropriate questions and now Missouri defensive end Michael Sam stating publicly earlier this month that he is gay.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said there are about seven topic areas they can't touch while interviewing prospects, including race, religion and sexual orientation.
"You can't ask a lot of things directly like that. I kind of go through a Rolodex. There are guidelines," Spielman said. "But I also spend a lot of time with people that do this for a profession … (you) still get the answer you're looking for without violating a law. We did that. I talked to our scouts about it. We went through the NFL memo that came out and I did it with the coaches. Listen, this is what we can't ask, but this is a way that legally you can go ahead and interview guys."
Spielman said the NFL memo was received in the last couple of weeks, but he has consulted psychologists for years about how to get the answers he is looking for when it comes to a wide variety of topics – from judging a player's competitive drive to finding out his legal troubles or background.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson said medical evaluations at the Combine are most important to him, but Packers head coach Mike McCarthy puts a lot of weight on the interviews, calling that the most important part of his Combine experience.
"If I was going to rank them, I'd say the interviews are probably – from my perspective – the most important. There's a lot that comes out of the interviews," McCarthy said. "If you look at how the interview process has grown over the years, just the implementation of video. The players, the prospects are a lot more prepared than they probably were 10, 15 years ago. The interaction is high velocity. You have a lot more interaction. You have to dig deeper. Actually it's fun."
Despite Sam's announcement, Spielman said a similar memo was sent to teams last year, too. The key, he admitted, is to stay within the guidelines of employment laws.
Asked if that will sanitize the Sam interview, Spielman said he doesn't care about a person's sexual preference.
"I don't care what you are. Can you win football games for us? But you also have to make sure that if a guy has the strength and he came out and admits his sexual orientation, which I commend him being able to do that, that if he does end up being in your locker room that you do have an atmosphere where he will be accepted," Spielman said. "To me, I think most of the players, they want guys that are going to help them win ballgames for us, regardless if they've got three heads or not. Guys who come in and help you win ballgames, that's what we're looking for. That's the only thing we're concerned about is the character stuff and the guys that are going to help you win."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Spielman embraces prospect interviews
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking Update5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking Update3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking Update3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking Update2:57 PM