Ditching The Wonderlic Won’t Fix Football Brain
12:41 PM EST on January 5, 2022
The National Football League has always tried new, increasingly arcane, and mostly ridiculous/insulting ways of trying to climb into potential employees' heads to see if they can balance rational thinking and sociopathic behavior in monetizable ways. Thus the news that they are no longer going to apply the Wonderlic test is at least mildly interesting.
"How?" you ask. Well, the league's brainier brains—which is to say the league's human resources lawyers—will probably come up with something that serves the same functions but is slightly less legally dodgy and fails a greater percentage of the time. They can't help themselves. They want you to believe that they are exemplars of examining the human mind as it applies to driving one's head through another's chest, and whether the results can spot more Tom Bradys than Antonio Browns.
They haven't indicated that they'll do this, of course. All we have is Rob Maaddi's report for the Associated Press, in which he actually buried the lede for an even more amorphous one: that the league claims it will now levy fines and take away draft choices if club employees ask questions that are insulting or downright illegal. You know, like Miami general manager Jeff Ireland asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute, or a scout asking Eli Apple for his sexual preference, or some unnamed functionary asking Derrius Guice both questions because, well, he was in the room and handy—you know, the stuff that tells you everything you need about a player's ability and aptitude.
This obviously will not happen; the league isn't fining anyone or taking away any draft choices for any such thing, ever. I mean, people would notice why that fifth-round draft choice that was Baltimore's is suddenly and without explanation Philadelphia's, or nobody's. The NFL, like any good corporation, is much better at hiding/explaining away company misdeeds than it is at issuing press releases threatening punishments for those misdeeds. They’ve already revealed too many ways in which they make the sausage, and while they'll still do tours of the slaughterhouse for the right price, they'll be damned if they let anyone see the rendering.
So the end of the Wonderlic is part of this move by the HR department to minimize potential lawsuits from players and/or their agents, and costs remarkably little since its results are essentially useless. The highest score ever recorded (a perfect 50) was by punter Pat McInally, not to be confused for even a second with punter Pat McAfee, and since then what we've learned about the Wonderlic is that the most trustworthy subjects in the eyes of the teams score neither too high nor too low on the 50-question quiz. Mediocre and compliant is what Football Men want out of their charges.
But there will be a new version of the Wonderlic at some point in the near future because the league can't help but devise one. That’s what Football Brain does—it measures stuff and convinces people that those measurements matter. It's how the Combine makes money. Hell, if someone had had the wit to make the Wonderlic a game show it might still exist, hosted by Kay Adams wearing a graduation gown and mortarboard.
The point is, the HR folks said the league needs to clean this potentially actionable problem up, and the league said it would because after the business people, the legal people are the most powerful in any organization. But the people on the sporting side remain the best at a third skill: finding ways around rules and bylaws and interoffice memos because they do that sort of thing with the rulebook all the time. Losing the thing called the Wonderlic will not be an issue for them unless they are devoted to having only Irish punters. But they'll make a new test, maybe name it after Buddy Ryan, and apply it in a different and less traceable way. And then, unless I miss my guess, mothers will have their characters debased in a way that offers more plausible deniability, like asking, “So, what does your mom do after church?"