BEREA, Ohio – The money can disappear, the fame can vanish. This week, NFL rookies are being reminded that the game’s hardest knocks often happen off the field.
During the league’s annual Rookie Symposium, first-year players are getting a crash course into everything that goes into being a professional athlete – the good, and the bad. The NFL wants its newest members to be prepared not only for what awaits them this season, but for the years ahead, especially those days when they’re no longer making big paychecks or big plays.
Through various educational seminars, candid, sometimes heartbreaking speeches and panel discussions, players are learning the X’s and O’s of life.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be out here learning from players who’ve been here, been in our shoes and who are where we want to be,” said San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o, the former Notre Dame star who this year was the target of a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.
“As we get into the next phase of our lives, it’s a new phase, something we’re not used to, so to keep our circle small and remember the people who have always been there for you.”
The AFC’s rookie class arrived in Aurora, Ohio, on Sunday to begin the four-day session, which the league has constructed as a teaching and bonding experience. The NFC rookies arrive Wednesday and stay through Sunday.
On Monday, players attended a seminar titled: “Are You Bigger Than The Game?” that featured Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and former Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett as speakers.
Jones recently pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and has had other off-the-field issues that led to league suspensions. He talked frankly about his many errors and warned players about them.
“He’s always been a guy who has preached don’t do the same mistakes he’s done,” said New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who knows Jones because both played at West Virginia. “He’s made a lot of mistakes in his career, but he’s a guy who is still standing strong and still working hard. He’s using his past trials and tribulations to try and help us.”
Clarett urged the players to stay straight. His promising pro career was derailed by legal troubles not long after he helped lead the Buckeyes to their first national title in 34 years. Clarett wound up serving 3 1/2 years in prison.
Chris Herren had a more harrowing tale.
The former NBA player was invited by the league to talk of how substance abuse nearly cost him his life. Now sober for five years, Herren had his audience riveted with firsthand accounts of his perilous road before recovery.
“He was a guy that lost a lot,” Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo said. “He nearly lost his family for the choice that he made, and he was sitting in the same seat that we were saying that it wasn’t going to be him. I looked around and everybody was paying attention to what he had to say because it was real.
“This was a guy that said this wasn’t going to happen to him. He’s not going to get addicted to drugs, he’s not going to spend his money on this, he’s not going to do that, but he did. Everybody listened to that and it made them pay more attention to the events and the speakers.”