How to stay on the right career path

by on September 3, 2014 at 1:31 am in Economics, Sports | Permalink

Also known as labor market precommitment:

St. Louis Rams rookie defense lineman Ethan Westbrooks made the final 53-man roster on Saturday, beating out Michael Sam for one of the team’s final spots.

Westbrooks has a remarkable story of his own. In 2011 he was working at a Toys “R” Us and playing for Sacramento City College. Three years later, he’s in the NFL. According to Westbrooks, an unlikely motivational tool — a face tattoo — is part of the reason for his success.

Westbrooks told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner that he got a tattoo below his eye in 2011 because he never wanted to get a normal job again. Making it in the NFL would be the only way to prevent him from becoming “a guy that has a tattoo on his face looking for another job.”

The full story is here, with a good photo.

The pointer is from G. Patrick Lynch.

1 ibaien September 3, 2014 at 1:36 am

burn your own boat.

2 Ray Lopez September 3, 2014 at 5:38 am

But this theory did not work well for Michael Sam, who declared himself gay but failed to make the team, unless you assume there is no longer any social stigma associated with being publicly gay.

3 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 6:59 am

Any social stigma is far swamped by the competitiveness at the highest level of the most visible job on the planet. It is weird to me when people accuse a Super Bowl winning coach of speaking in homophobic code when he talks about the distraction of players who are literally bringing a reality show to training camp. I think either it is just a fun meme to go along with or people don’t understand elite competition. About a million desperate guys don’t make the roster, including one openly gay guy. Talk about survivorship bias!

4 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 7:00 am

(OTOH, if I hated the gay guy, I’d want to replace him with a guy with a tattoo on his face)

5 dead serious September 3, 2014 at 7:36 am

Michael Vick certainly didn’t bring a reality show to Philly.

6 andrew' September 3, 2014 at 7:48 am

And he was possibly an athlete potentially superior to Michael Jordan and the QB position is a position of such importance we now use it as a name for positions of imprtance. He didn’t pan out, but he was worth a risk. Michael Sam is just a guy.

7 andrew' September 3, 2014 at 7:54 am

Sam seems headed to Dallas

I rest my case.

8 dead serious September 3, 2014 at 8:06 am

I would agree with you if said Super Bowl winning coach gave that explanation. But he didn’t.

Apparently he just likes certain projects more than others. He’s willing to risk turmoil for Christian redemption but not for a sodomite.

9 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:13 am

I don’t get how your argument follows.

Tony Dungy might council Michael Sam in his capacity as not a coach (although you probably wouldn’t like his council). But in his capacity as commentator talking about his capacity as a coach in a position to win a Super Bowl he almost certainly would not want any projects.

10 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:16 am

Again, it is not even Apples and any type of fruit.

Michael Vick was the most spectacular athlete of the last…maybe ever. And Dungy wasn’t even really doing anything with him for football reasons, other than they happened to both be in football.

No one is claiming Michael Sam needs counciling, and even to suggest it would be ridiculed mercilessly.

11 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:30 am

Now, if I were a coach, I might even use the distraction of a Michael Sam circus to displace all the other distracting questions from the media.

But that is not an argument that it isn’t a distraction.

12 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

It is also weird how people will read (if they even do that) Tony Dungy and just say “well, he is lying because he has to be anti [insert anti=protected flavor of the month class here]” It really needs to stop.

Again, this is football, baby.

This is real.

What he should have said, to be PR is that Dallas, the Jets, or some of the other non-win-oriented teams should have drafted him.

13 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:55 am

Btw, the distraction thing, and not being the answer was a detractor for Tim Tebow. Nobody blew up at people suggesting that who also had no direct impact on his chances.

14 Mo September 3, 2014 at 9:24 am

The problem with Tim Tebow was that he was a terrible QB. If he was a competent QB, he would still be in the league. As it stands, he couldn’t even beat out Mark Sanchez for a starting job.

15 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 9:37 am

See, this is what I’m talking about with Tebow. So, let’s say he’s the 40th best QB in the league. All those guys are in the league. He wasn’t. More like the 19th or 20th. Since when does somebody have to be the second-coming of Peyton Brady to be the second or third QB?

It seems we are doomed to never be able to talk about some issues in their relevant facts.

16 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

I suspect the Tebow problem is that his personality mainly, and the hoopla secondarily make it difficult for him to be a second or third backup. And since he isn’t a potential franchise player that precludes him from being given the full reins.

This is different from being a “terrible QB” which is obviously false. Being almost a starting QB is not being terrible in any objective stretch of the imagination. It’ gets a pass on sports talk, but not reality-based discussion. If someone said Michael Sam was a “terrible player,” they’d be laughed at. He is a really good, top 1000 player.

17 Mo September 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

He most certainly wasn’t a top 20 QB and not even a top 40 one. His completion percentage in 2011 (his only full season) was under 50% and in his magical first season he was at 50%.Those are unacceptable numbers for an NFL starting QB. Also, because Tebow’s style and skills are unique, you need to have the offense shaped for his unique skills and talent. This is fine if the guy is going to be your starter, but you can’t completely retool your offense around your backup. So you either need your backup to have a similar, but lower quality, skill set as your starter or you need your backup to be able to play a stripped down generic version of your offense. You can’t gadget up your offense because of your backup. So this makes a generic pocket passer a much more valuable commodity as a backup than someone with unique abilities.

Compared to NFL QB talent he’s terrible. If I say Omri Caspi is a “terrible player,” it is shorthand for “he’s a terrible NBA player” even though he would dominate in Rucker Park.

18 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 10:51 am
19 Quite Likely September 3, 2014 at 10:52 am

“Again, this is football, baby.

This is real.”


20 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

You can be a worse quarterback as a starter as long as your situation and paradigm are more mainstream (i.e. less of a distraction).

But if it doesn’t you might not even rate a 4th option. So, maybe Tebow is a top 41 QB. Have you checked out the list of starting scrubs at quarterback?

This is different from a Michael Sam who might not make a roster because he is a top 500 player at his position, or he might make the roster because it is easier to have a top 500 player on the roster at his position. It depends on what type of distraction the coach wants to put up with.

Tebow’s problem is he had to be a top 20 quarterback to get a chance to build a skill set. Sam’s problem is next there is another thousand guys who can take his spot with no fanfare whatsoever.

21 Mo September 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

Your defense of Tebow is that he’s about as good as Blaine Gabbert? Blaine Gabbert is a bad NFL QB and I would not be surprised if he never gets another job in the NFL after this season. I have seen the list of starting scrubs and they are still all better than Tebow. Tebow couldn’t beat out Mark Sanchez for a job, who is currently a backup and couldn’t get anything better than a one year contract. Plus, for scout team purposes, a guy that is above average accuracy-wise in the pocket and terrible under pressure, than a guy who is below average in the pocket and only mediocre under pressure. The latter guy is probably a “better” quarterback if he becomes the guy, but the former guy is much more useful if you have your starter set and you want to get your corners ready for game day.

Your Sam critique would make sense if he didn’t have a good preseason and camp. It’s preseason, so it doesn’t matter all that much and STL is probably the worst team for him to end up on because of their depth at the position, but there are a lot of scrubs starting at DE and unlike QB, DEs don’t typically play 100% of their snaps. The predicted distraction and hoopla never materialized once OTAs started and the pads went on.

22 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 2:03 pm

No, my defense of Tebow is that he is on par, maybe a little worse, but possibly with better tools than guys who have started. Mark Sanchez started for years.

I have no critique of Sam. However, I did find out that I had a higher vertical jump when I was his age.

23 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Mark Sanchez, btw, to me illustrates how desperate the NFL is for anything with two legs and a heart beat at the QB position for anything but the top 5 or so (Brady, Manning, Brees, debatables)

24 Mo September 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

The reality show never happened and the predicted Michael Sam circus never materialized. Interestingly, none of the people that bring up the Oprah reality show never bring up Hard Knocks.

25 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Tony Dungy, if one gives him the benefit of the doubt, and why not, is talking about a very low level player in terms of elite super bowl oriented coaching.

The comparison to Vick is bad. I’d put up with the Circue de Soleil every half time for Vick. I think a better comparison is Tebow who can’t play at any teams with a franchise quarter back.

Sam is a good fit for Dallas where he might get a shot and the circus is fine. Tebow could be a 3rd QB and special use player in a similar media market, but why would he do that when he can go straight into broadcasting?

26 dead serious September 3, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Vick came back into football after a year in prison and was anything but a sure bet. Even before he went to prison he didn’t exactly have a track record of staying healthy and winning on the Falcons. Take a look at his passing yardage per game numbers when he was in Atlanta. Nothing special. He more than made up for it in scrambles, but again, he didn’t really win anything while a Falcon other than a single playoff game.

There aren’t a lot of success stories given his trajectory but, as you say, he has amazing physical talent to compensate and he was worth the risk to the Eagles as they already had a starting QB.

I doubt any coach focused on winning a Super Bowl that year is going to invest in Michael Vick a) because of the circus element and b) because he’s not going to bring you to the promised land even without the circus element. Michael Sam, because of the position he plays, is less likely to either hamper or enhance your chances of achieving that goal.

Tebow is another quarterback who maybe deserves a practice squad spot or a QB3 slot at best. There are other running quarterbacks who do what he does much better and we all know he can’t function as a pocket passer – his mechanics are poor according to experts. So you get the circus and at best a backup to the backup. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario is he becomes the focus of resentment from his teammates due to all the media attention, which is what happened pretty much everywhere he played.

27 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Hard Knocks:

The San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, and Washington Redskins each declined to be the show’s featured team for the 2013 season, while the Cincinnati Bengals accepted, marking their second appearance on the show. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell subsequently said that he wanted more teams to be featured on the series, on “some kind of formal rotation.”[5][6]

Despite the difficulty each year in finding a team willing to participate, NFL Films announced on July 18, 2013, that it had signed a “multiyear” contract extension with HBO to continue producing the show.[7]

On October 8, 2013, the NFL announced that one team each year will be required to participate in Hard Knocks. Teams may still volunteer to be on the show. Teams with new coaches, teams that have been in the playoffs at least once in the past 2 years, or teams that have done the show once in the past 10 years are exempt from being forced into appearing on the show. [8]

28 andrew' September 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

I am not a booster for anyone. It is just that the NFL is deep on defensive players and shallow in qbs.

29 Martin-2 September 3, 2014 at 7:50 am

How would coming out as gay work as a precommitment to joining the NFL?

30 andrew' September 3, 2014 at 7:52 am

It is a stretch, but some theories were floated that he was using the notoriety to influence the draft process.

31 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 1:37 am

Survivorship bias much?

32 anon September 3, 2014 at 1:52 am

which one is the false statement whose falseness comes from survivorship bias?

33 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 2:06 am

You hear about the people who got face tattoos and made it to the NFL, but not the much larger proportion of people who got face tattoos and now just can’t get jobs. Hence face tattoos erroneously appear to be a method for success.

Tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it is a common misconception to think the methods of highly successful people are worthy of emulation, without considering the actual success rate of those methods.

34 honkie please September 3, 2014 at 2:47 am

Huh? The whole premise underlying the story is that getting a face tattoo makes you unemployable.

35 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 2:54 am

He did that as a motivation to make the NFL, and it was a successful technique for him.

36 honkie please September 3, 2014 at 3:28 am

John Bender: “I…can…read.”

We appear to be talking past each other; my point is that the story highlights the very thing you say it’s hiding.

37 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 3:53 am

@honkie, the premise I am thinking about is “make yourself unemployable in a normal job as a way of forcing yourself to do what you really want.” Only hearing about the people who succeeded might lead one to believe this is a good strategy, but it may be harmful overall.

It is more of a joking response to Tyler’s (surely also joking) post title than the article itself.

38 anon September 3, 2014 at 3:25 am

are you sure it’s erroneous? i’m perfectly ready to believe that the chances of an athlete making it as an athlete increases when he precommits to not getting (or at least making it harder for himself to get) a “normal” job.

i’ll admit i did not bother to click the link, but neither tyler nor his excerpt asserts that a face tattoo leads to making it to the NFL with high probability.

mostly i am erked by the substanceless attitude of your initial comment. it provided no baseline for discussion, and my best guess of the implication didn’t directly rebut anything above it.

39 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 3:45 am

Ok, I should have said that “tattoos may erroneously appear to be a method for success.” Of course I am not familiar with the literature on whether face tattoos are a net benefit.

Sorry if my initial comment was annoying. I mostly was joking, but of course such things don’t come across well in three word comments. I do think the phenomenon of potentially wrongly associating the habits and actions of successful people with their success is interesting, though.

40 andrew' September 3, 2014 at 5:15 am

Seemed fine to me.

Also, these are the guys everyone is wringing their hands over brain injuries. I am not even making a crack about them being stupid. They are desperately obsessed and I am not so paternalistic as to force them not to be. Although full disclosure (which is impossible because nobody knows) and internalization if costs makes sense.

41 David Wright September 3, 2014 at 3:25 am

Your caveat is very much worth calling out, but it doesn’t invalidate the original point. Suppose that without the face tattoo he has a 10% chance of ending up an abject failure, a 1% chance of ending up an NFL superstar, and an 89% chance of ending up a normal guy. Suppose the tattoo eliminates the middle option, leaving him with a 90% chance of ending up an abject failure and a 10% chance of ending up an NFL superstar. For someone with the right preferences and risk tolerance, that’s a rational choice.

42 Quite Likely September 3, 2014 at 10:55 am

Yeah, this pretty much explains the whole situation. Really this is similar to the calculation everyone who goes into the entertainment industry (including sports) makes. You are less likely than most people to just have a regular, decent job, but you increase your (still low) chances of being rich and famous.

43 anon September 3, 2014 at 3:46 am

mostly it seems like dan noticed that there was a post about a survivor. so certain claims and generalizations that build off of that story could exhibit survivor bias. but such claims were not made. it’s a good pattern match to start thinking about whether that bias is at play, but dan goes on to do nothing with it. oh well, you can’t win em all.

44 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 3:55 am

The claim was the post title. My comment was meant to be just as serious as the title surely is.

45 mavery September 3, 2014 at 9:11 am

Don’t worry, dan. I got it.

This place has gotten so over-serious.

46 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

General confusion about the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions and those that are neither.

I’ve heard of grad students who didn’t shave until their dissertations were done. If it is stupid but it works, I guess it isn’t stupid.

47 Urso September 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

That last line is great.

48 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 1:39 am

That’s why I got a DUI — so I could stop practicing law.

Had I lived in Austin, TX, that would have been a job qualification.

49 Anon September 3, 2014 at 2:12 am

…but also to show why a Governor is unfit for higher office.

DUI : Did Unintentionally Initiate (a stupid Tweet).

50 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 7:03 am

You just gave me an idea. Sorry it is personal. Assuming you didn’t really want to stop practicing law, how much would you put up with a signed promise to never get another DUI?

It just seems to me that after such a punishment the incentive power is gone, if it even can be said to have worked in the first place.

51 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 10:34 am

No worries.

Yes, I did want to stop practicing law. The question I had to deal with was whether my poor choice that night was a) a drinking problem, b) self destructive behavior, or c) a momentary lapse of reason.

Unfortunately, all three applied. I wasn’t happy, so I cast aside the risk to my job.

In my case I blew a 0.06, under the legal limit, but I had a fender bender in the parking lot and the officer believed I was impaired. Lost my license for a year, $2500 fine, no jail, restitution, sobriety school, higher premiums. If I had had a better lawyer, I might have been acquitted. The judge knew me and my position, and he had to set an example.

When a prosecutor has a DUI it is typically a career death sentence. I certainly wasn’t going to repeat – the penalties grow really fast. I get your point, though. For me, the biggest deterrent was my own sense of guilt. Many of those I prosecuted had little difficulty in repeating this offense. There were lots of first offenders I never saw again, but I wasnt there long enough.

In a way, my case serves your point. It came down to a police officer’s judgment on a field sobriety test with dubious validity.

You could say it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I found a job I love, faith in God, and my wife.

52 Quite Likely September 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

“Many of those I prosecuted had little difficulty in repeating this offense. There were lots of first offenders I never saw again, but I wasnt there long enough.”

I would guess that there would be a split between one-timers and people who get DUI’s over and over, with the one-timers actually being the majority, but looking like a minority because you see each repeat offender many more times.

53 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

Yes, you are likely correct. I’d say that the correlation between BAC and repeat offenses is very high. I can also confidently say that repeat offenders are usually driving on a suspended/revoked license, uninsured, and with a tail light out. 🙂

Recidivism in general appears to be a wanton path of self-destruction and, in many cases, taking others with you.

54 gab September 3, 2014 at 1:40 pm

“You could say it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I found a job I love, faith in God, and my wife.”

Well, one out of three ain’t bad. At least you can feed yourself and pay the rent…

55 Ryan T September 3, 2014 at 7:08 am

I’ve heard this prominent tattoo motivation theory before — I think from the Blink 182 drummer — suggesting to me at least that there are quite a few other people that follow this strategy. Any idea who is the leader of this movement?

(Could it be Seth Godin?)

56 FC September 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

I think it was Queequeg.

57 Jay September 3, 2014 at 8:15 am

He (Westbrooks) is not gay. So Liberals don’t care about this guy.

58 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:23 am

Is this even the right career choice for the majority who make the cut? Talk about red sea competition!

59 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 11:16 am

Some people have myopic preferences and others have their Maslow pyramid balanced on its tip (with expected consequences)

60 chuck martel September 3, 2014 at 8:30 am

Most coaches at any level will tell you that out of a camp full of prospective players they know who they’re going to keep before the camp actually starts.

61 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 8:31 am

Endowment effect!

62 albatross September 3, 2014 at 8:57 am

Somehow, a facial tattoo fills the same spot in my mind as those “POOR IMPULSE CONTROL” tattoos on the foreheads of small-time criminals in _Snow Crash_.

63 Quite Likely September 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

Haha. Remind me how those worked in Snow Crash? It would be interesting to give people the option of having something like that for a few years in place of jail time.

64 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 11:19 am

Scarlet letter?

As a former prosecutor, I can say with reasonable certainty that shame will not work on most people. Corporal punishment would, I believe, work better, but given our nation’s history this is infeasible.

65 jmo September 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

Even if he makes it to the NFL, the median run is IIRC 3 years at $500k a year. What is the plan for the rest of his life?

66 Urso September 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

This is the real issue. This guy isn’t Lawrence Taylor; he’s not even even Elvis Dumervil. Maybe he’s Willie Whitehead. Best case scenario is he ends up 27 years old, out of the league, with $300,000 in the bank and a face tattoo. How long will that $300K last? Of course smart players can leverage their NFL success into a post-football career, but again, face tattoo.

67 dan1111 September 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Surely if he makes even one season of the NFL minimum, that will be more than the earnings cost of the face tattoo. It’s not as if the face tattoo prevents him from getting any other job, ever.

Also, being an ex-NFL player may increase earnings potential in other ways.

68 Urso September 4, 2014 at 7:55 am

“Also, being an ex-NFL player may increase earnings potential in other ways.”
Maybe, but I think that set is more limited than you think. I once met someone who told me he was a backup lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. (Maybe he was lying to me, but he had something that surely looked like a Super Bowl ring.) He was working as a security guard in a medium sized town in the rural South. Cheerful guy though.
I think one issue is that when someone hears “NFL player” they immediately think of the famous ones – Peyton Manning, Ray Rice, whoever. But those guys are the absolute tip of the iceberg, even within the NFL. It’s like assuming all actors are rich because of Tom Cruise. For every Tom Cruise there’s 250 guys eking out a living off broadway or in local commercials.

69 Michael H September 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Well, with $300,000 he’ll be able to easily afford to have the tattoo removed.

70 Andrew' September 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

He might even become “that guy who played in the NFL with the face tattoo.”

Risk and reward.

71 John Mansfield September 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

In a few years he will again be someone with a tattoo on his face looking for a job, but he will have once been on an NFL team.

72 Quite Likely September 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

And that makes all the difference.

73 chuck martel September 3, 2014 at 11:14 am
74 Yancey Ward September 3, 2014 at 11:43 am

Tattoos can be removed. Most likely, 5 years from now, he will be a guy with a regular job and a modest facial scar.

75 Willitts September 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Judging from the tattoo on his throat, I doubt he will remove any tattoos regardless of his prospects. I suspect that if he finds a job outside the NFL, it will be the type of job where facial tattoos are either no concern or desirable.

People’s choices tell us a lot about who they are or were. People change, but the scars remain.

Mind you, I don’t think ill of him because of his harmless choice. He can adorn himself however he pleases. However, I don’t expect to see him in a suit selling insurance products.

76 skh.pcola September 4, 2014 at 12:36 am

Nothing defines social deviancy better than social deviants themselves, This asshole will end up on welfare, eventually. The NFL is taking the NBA route, in which it chooses to employ the worst of of society to act as role models. This gangsta POS should be ridiculed and shunned.

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