Behind The Scenes

How The Mag gets ‘Confidential’ scoop from players for 2012 NFL Preview

ESPN The Magazine’s NFL Confidential survey results will appear in the issue dated Sept. 3.

Were the Bountygate penalties too harsh?

Would you agree to play without a face mask, in the interest of reducing helmet-to-helmet hits?

What grade would you give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, on a number of issues?

This NFL offseason, ESPN The Magazine polled dozens of NFL players on these questions and more. The results are assembled in the “NFL Confidential” section of the NFL Preview issue, on newsstands Friday. A snapshot of the spread is seen above.

Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson

In addition, The Magazine polled 320 prep players about concussions and the risks they’d be willing to take for glory. The answers might surprise you.

Senior editor Ryan Hockensmith oversaw the project and shares some insights.

How long has The Mag been doing “Confidentials?”
Our first Confidential ran in the 2009 College Football Preview. We always talked about how cool it would be to round up lots of athletes and ask them to tell us about the conversations they have when the media isn’t around. But we never tried it until that issue. That first year, [three reporters and editors] got 85 college football players to discuss their game. Contrast that with how we do Confidentials now, and it’s a crazy evolution: Now we use 10 to 20 reporters to round up athletes. Since that first one, I would estimate we’ve done 20 more, ranging from MLB and NHL players to women’s Olympians and NFL agents.

How do you coordinate so many reporters for these Confidentials?
Coordination can be tough. It’s just constantly talking to each reporter, making sure there is no overlap among athletes and gauging progress. We need at least a month to make sure we get a good number of respondents. We try for about 50 people to respond to any single survey, but we’ve ranged from 30 to 300-plus respondents. (This NFL version interviewed 48 players.)

What was the goal of producing “The NFL Confidential” and “Concussion Confidential” in the same issue?
The goal is to get something that, while probably not scientific, is beyond anecdotal. Talking to the amount of players we did is a good sample size and weeds out individual opinions that may not represent the overall feeling of the larger group. And one thing we always strive to do is actually interview guys — we do not just hand out surveys and have players check off yes and no answers. The vast majority of surveys we do are 20-minute — sometimes longer– interviews with players, where we ask “Why did you answer that way?” after every question.

Do players refuse to participate even though it’s anonymous?
We do get plenty of people who decline to participate, even though we promise anonymity. But we also have plenty of people who know about Confidential and want to participate.

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