Representation Matters: Why Some NFL Players Are Upset Over Madden Ratings

I can imagine one of the biggest dreams for pro athletes as children is to grow up and be in a video game. Most of us who play games that allow for character customization have made some representation of ourselves based on reality or fantasy. There was a time my NBA Live created player was a 6'8" small forward who would dunk anything. Teenage dreams turned into more realistic adulthood ideals and any player-created looks more like the most optimized version of my current self. Pro athletes were once fans and children, too. Not having to create themselves in a video game because they're in it brings a level of pride and maybe validation of their childhood dreams.

So, it can be understood why some players are so invested in their Madden player ratings. Over the three decades, the game franchise has existed, the rating system has become more detailed. From just basic attributes like speed and strength to now refined skills like spin move and deep ball accuracy, the breakdown of NFL players and their abilities is more concentrated than ever. The tension from players comes with them knowing (or overestimating) how good they are.

Part of the disconnect does stem from the fact that though those scouts who study hours of game film, most if not all of them did not play football at a high level. It is different watching from the stands than living it on the field with other pro athletes. A common example of this is when average people are pitted against NFL players in tests of speed and skill. The pro shines, cementing the gap between them and a regular person. It's hard to tell someone like Chargers receiver Keenan Allen he's not as fast as he thinks he is when he's been a very productive player his entire career.

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen was one of a few players who were upset with their Madden ratings. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

The other side of that idea is that some players do inflate the idea of how good they are at certain skills. I haven't played Madden in years, but I do know that the team over at EA Sports has to account for regression--especially if a player has a down year or was injured. No matter how good a player thinks he is, game developers must rate them compared to other players. I would imagine the aforementioned Allen isn't faster than Raiders receiver Antonio Brown. But that doesn't mean Allen isn't fast at all. Furthermore, the difference in ratings is relying on minute measurements to determine those ratings. Everything from milliseconds in speed to the percentage of accurate throws quarterbacks make factors in, and they have to separate these players somehow.

The developers at EA have a huge burden, given how popular Madden is with online gambling and tournaments. Include the continuous attempts at satisfying players, like in this video of a hilarious adaptation of the rating process, and kudos goes to them for putting out a relatively quality product for 30 years--even if a few players don't like some of their ratings.

I understand those players who want to be best represented in a video game. Though it's a childhood dream come true doesn't mean they don't want the reality to be as close to dreamlike as possible.

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