Every week, leading up to the NFL Draft, former Dallas Cowboys defensive back Clayton Holmes will write a series of exclusive columns for BC Magazine, as told to Blogcritics sportswriter James Dickson.
Jerry Seinfeld once joked that attracting the opposite sex is much easier for women. "At least they know what to do to get us interested," Seinfeld said: "hair, make-up, high-heels."
"Men," on the other hand, "we don't have a clue. Why do you think we're going out into Space and climbing mountains? Because we want to be able to impress the women!"
And there's not many women you'll come across, even those who don't watch football, who won't find it impressive that you're a player in the National Football League, that you've turned a kid's game into a paying gig. If you don't learn how to manage their attentions, you might wind up owing half of your earnings to someone who was never all that interested in you in the first place.
This column, I must say up-front, isn't motivated by any distaste for women — I happen to have two daughters whom I love with all my heart — but by the realities of The Game. And since you can't wish-away the unsavory characters in the world, you must learn how to deal with them. A few inadvertently hurt feelings is better than seeing other guys lose sight of what's really important as an NFL rookie: football.
The Game is Deep
I spotted her right away — her, I had to have. Red head. Total stunner. Legs up to her neck. And, somehow, really enthusiastic about seeing me.
I'd always been a pretty shy guy. Never really went on dates in high school. Didn't even meet my ex-wife until college. Just wasn't the kind of guy women are interested in. So I didn't know why this woman chose me from amongst the chorus — until she opened her mouth.
"Are you financially secure?" she interrogated.
Not — "how are you?" Not — "what's your name?" or "where are you from?" Or any of the questions that warm someone up to you, but — "Are you financially secure?"
Turns out her intentions weren't quite so pure as I'd hoped. Any "romance" I'd be getting from her would come at a price — whether money or gifts or a wedding ring, but a price just the same.
I knew I was in pretty deep water. It was a blessing in disguise that I didn't have enough game at that point for things to progress beyond a few minutes of awkward conversation.
Unless the woman is your financial advisor, it should be a definite red flag when money issues come up with a girl you've just met. If, ten minutes after meeting you, she's talking about her car that's breaking down or how she doesn't know if she'll be able to make rent this month, she's in it for the money. That's why she's at the club that night. And that's why she's locked in conversation with you: In search of the guy who can make her money problems go away.
I got lucky. Most hangers-on, or at least the ones who are really good at it, won't make their intentions known right off the bat. Instead they'll build up some trust, and some attraction, usually over the course of several months, and get you thinking with your little head rather than the big one.
Then, just as you're hooked on the good feelings she gives you, she'll get cold and pull the plug. "I don't feel like I can just be with you if there's not a commitment," she'll say. Or, "wouldn't it be easier if I just stayed with you instead of having to come over late at night?" Others will "forget" to take their birth control, in the hopes that the guy will either end up marrying her or at least owing her a healthy portion of his earnings for child support.
No good can ever come of that.
Say Goodbye to your Girlfriend
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the college sweetheart-types that knew you before you made the League. In my experience, sweethearts undergo just as much of a transition period as players do. The new money changes everything, but so, too, does the amount of time you spend together. Those first few years in the League you want to mesh with your teammates as much as possible — you can't have people nagging you about how much time you spend out with the boys.
But unless you're on the marriage track, my advice on sweethearts is simple: save yourself the stress and end things sooner, rather than later.
There are more social opportunities available to you as an NFL player than you can even imagine. You shouldn't feel guilty — or be made to feel guilty — for taking advantage of them.
But the pursuit of good times, I can tell you from experience, shouldn't come at the cost of hurting someone you care about. Which is why I believe it's better to truly start your life anew once you sign that rookie contract. Unless you play in Green Bay, there are probably more women and more beautiful women in your new city than you had back on campus. With so many fish in the sea, you don't want to end up making a chub your main course.
Your transition to a professional football player is tough enough without having somebody nagging you about going out with your teammates too much or spending too little time alone.
When you enter the League, your life becomes a zero-sum game. Essentially, every moment you spend with friends or girlfriends is time you're not not spending studying your playbook or breaking down film.
Your first two to three years in the League, the only girlfriend you need to worry about is your playbook. If you learn its lessons, you can reap benefits worth millions, and lasting financial security for you and yours.
Depending on your system and your coaches your playbook will be about six inches thick. Your special teams playbook is about half that. All told, that's ten inches worth of the most complex football you've ever seen — and that's before you even start preparing for other teams.
The NFL isn't like college biology class, where maybe you've done the reading and maybe you haven't. Ignorance is a lot easier to mask in a 300-person lecture hall than in a meeting room with six players and three coaches, where you're always competing or being evaluated. Unless you're a top 15 pick and a team commits big dollars to you, the burden is on you to prove you belong.
When your coach orders you to diagram a play on the white board and explain both your responsibility and those of your fellow linebackers or DBs, you don't want to sit there thinking that maybe you'd know more and wouldn't be as tired if you hadn't stayed up all night arguing with your girlfriend — or waiting out a pregnancy scare with a girl you just met a few weeks ago.
Clayton Holmes was a member of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys football dynasty. Today he speaks for Velvet Suite and lectures young athletes. Next week he will be writing about the drug use and abuse in the National Football League.
(Photo credits: Clayton Holmes; Jonathan Hayt, WireImage.com; Dallas Cowboys)