INDIANAPOLIS -- What's the best way to look at a football player in comparing him to other jobs?
Would you believe a firefighter?
Sound crazy? Well, listen to Washington, D.C.-based civil rights attorney Cyrus Mehri, who has been pushing the NFL to look at players far differently than simply highly trained athletes performing in a multi-collision sport, and it begins to make sense.
"Look at the tests that are used by employers today. You have tests for financial services, tests for becoming an electrical apprentice," Mehri said in an interview with Newsday. "But the one that I think it equates to best is firefighters. You have to process information at a moment's notice and act on that. It may not be life and death like a firefighter, but you have to process and absorb a situation and act on it quickly, which is a lot different than becoming a financial analyst or a lawyer."
Mehri, architect of the NFL's "Rooney Rule," which promotes diversity hiring, is now at the forefront of another move to help teams better understand the players coming into the league by offering a unique assessment test. The idea is to measure a player's personality traits by using assessment tools applied in the corporate world.
Mehri has partnered with Baruch College professor Harold Goldstein, a specialist in industrial psychology, to present the NFL what Mehri calls the PAT -- player assessment test. And yes, it's not a coincidence that the acronym is the same as the one used in the NFL for point-after touchdown.
"This is like a point after touchdown, in that the players do all the other stuff and this is the last thing they do," Mehri said. "I feel that it's going to level the playing field a little bit for kids from different socio-economic backgrounds. I think there will be some anxiety, but I do hope it's a little empowering. For a lot of kids, their strengths are being missed under the current system that are going to be discovered under this system."
Until now, the only aptitude test given to players has been the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test, an intelligence test used by many companies. There has been some concern in NFL circles that not all players are fairly evaluated with the Wonderlic, especially those who may have struggled in school. Wonderlic test scores also aren't necessarily indicators of future success or failure in the NFL. Many players who have scored high on the test have struggled in the pros; others who have scored low have gone on to have excellent careers.
Mehri and Goldstein consulted with several current and former NFL general managers and other executives, including current Giants general manager Jerry Reese and the man he succeeded, Ernie Accorsi. Reese said he's hopeful that the PAT will offer a better glimpse into personality characteristics of the draft-eligible players.
"Hopefully, this will develop into something we like," Reese said. He added that it could one day replace the Wonderlic, although Mehri is careful to point out that for now, the PAT will continue to be administered in addition to -- not in place of -- the Wonderlic.
"The Wonderlic may be a little outdated, and some people think it's a biased test," Reese said.
Wonderlic executives defend their test, saying it still provides a valuable tool for NFL evaluators. The test recently was updated to include what the company says are "now item types that incorporate new findings in the science of testing."
The PAT -- a one-hour computerized test in which no final number or grade is assigned -- offers 16 measurements or characteristics and competencies that fall into three broad categories: how motivated a player is, how competitive he is and what types of learning styles he uses. That third part is especially important.
"You don't want to measure just how book-smart you are, because you might not be the best reader in the world, but you might be off-the-charts smart," Mehri said. "Some may be stronger in oral presentations, some more visual, some better reading. Then, in terms of how you process information and quickly, that kind of measurement is in there, too."
And that's where the fireman analogy comes in.
"A firefighter has that urgency and has to quickly see a situation and assess it," Mehri said.
One incoming player who took the PAT can absolutely relate to the idea that a football player and a firefighter have plenty in common. Why? Because Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Jordan Mills has had that very conversation with his father, a professional firefighter.
"He says we basically have the same job," Mills said of his father, O'Neil. "You have to go out there in a danger zone and make quick decisions. In a fire, he has to go out and save people by making quick decisions. Do I go out this door, or do I ask for help? It's always a life decision that comes to you in that type of situation. We're playing football and it's not life or death, but there is danger and you have to decide quickly."