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In NFL as on the Hill, Teamwork Rules the Plays

Doug Pensinger/Allsport/Getty Images
Rep. Jon Runyan was an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles. He often uses football references when speaking about his Congressional work.

One of those sacrifices is time. With practices lasting morning until night, hours spent in the film room going over plays and hectic travel schedules, the NFL is more than a full-time job. The time commitment required of Members of Congress is similar, but the days are decidedly less focused.

“I’m coming from my past career where everything is so structured and disciplined, where this, sometimes your schedule will change four times in a day,” Runyan said.

And because Members’ days are so busy and apt to change, time with the “team” often can be pushed to the back burner.

“In the NFL, when something had to be done at 10 o’clock, that means you were there 10 minutes till,” Shuler said. “Here, it may be 10:45 before everyone gets here and they’re prepared to work, and then they leave at 10:55.”

Despite their hectic schedules, lawmakers are expected to spend their own time reading up on current issues and legislative reports. Runyan said he spends time each week icing his injured knee — one of the reasons he no longer plays — and catching up on his reading.

He sees the Constitution as his playbook, something that needs to be studied each week to play the game successfully.

“Every single week you pick it up and you study it,” he said. “How is it going to apply to this piece of legislation? How is this play going to apply to this defensive front you’re running against?”

And, as Shuler explains it, if you call the wrong play, it can hurt you on the field and at the ballot box.

“Not getting the right call, in both instances, can cost you,” he said. “You vote wrong, you get ousted, and if you don’t make the right call in football, or the right play, then you get ousted — the difference being just going home and a guy 300 pounds sending you home.”

That studying, though, is nothing new for the former NFL players. Shuler said he used to spend hours analyzing game film, focusing on what he could do better during the next game. And the stereotype that football players are just mindless athletes is something Runyan said he’s encountered and tried to dispel.

“I don’t think most people realize the amount of brainpower it takes to play football,” he said. “It is very technical, and it is very strategic. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it.”

Playing in the NFL also prepared these Members for negative attention.

Although nobody’s heckling from the House Gallery, lawmakers are subject to constant criticism in the same way a professional football player is. Runyan said his experience with public backlash during his football career prepared both him and his family for Congress.

“The negative aspect that people are trying to drive home and demean you and break you down, that’s in both” Congress and the NFL, Runyan said. “You’re constantly getting attacked.”

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