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Symposium gives NFL rookies a glimpse of the bigger picture

  • By Thomas George NFL.com
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CARLSBAD, Calif. -- A video recap of the 2007 season kicked off the 12th annual NFL rookie symposium here on Sunday. Nearly every NFL team was featured and the finish was exactly what we remembered, with the Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy high as winners of Super Bowl XLII.

As each of the 252 players from the 2008 draft watched, they envisioned making their own championship tackle, victorious run or decisive catch.

Mark Lyons / Getty Images
Matt Sherry, who got his first taste of the NFL at a Bengals minicamp in May, is learning about NFL life off the field at this week's rookie symposium.

Before that, however, there is the NFL business of assisting these rookies in learning how to handle their business. From finances to continuing education to substance abuse to sex education to the league's conduct policy, the rookies this week will gain a crash course on dos and don'ts in their transition from college players to pros.

For most, it is an intricate and voluminous undertaking.

"So far, so good," said Matt Sherry, a Bengals rookie tight end. "Any time you get guys who went through their first year up there talking about the experience, like we had in the opening session, that is really good and something you can learn from. It's fresh with them, and it's all really fresh with us."

Wilrey Fontenot, an Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback, added: "I had some of my veteran teammates in camp already tell me about many of these things. Then to come here and begin to hear them again, it clicks. It's familiar. We need the repetition. It's how you learn."

On Monday the players will hear presentations on substance abuse (particularly steroid policy and awareness) and financial advice. Tuesday, the focus is a youth football clinic and player conduct. The symposium concludes Wednesday with a sex education guide (particularly an HIV overview) and life skills emphasis.

The symposium was created in 1997 as a vehicle to guide players through the murky waters of becoming even more celebrated athletes. The group was reminded via video by commissioner Roger Goodell that their inclusion in the league is a privilege, not a right. Goodell stated: "There are only 252 of you, and there are more than 10 million males your age in America who would love to trade places with you. Everyone in the NFL must take part in the integrity of the NFL."

This symposium is a reminder of that and much more. It is an effort to create a culture of responsibility and professionalism that lasts among the new wave of players entering the league.

Limit the negatives

We all know that despite the lectures, the advice, the entire exercise, some players simply will not get it. Some will sow seeds on and off the field that will diminish, if not ruin, their careers.

Each year, however, with efforts like these, the goal is to decrease that number.

"You are going to find less and less of those players in our league because those guys are going to be easily identified, and there really is no place for them," said Michael Haynes, the league's vice president of player and employee development. "We are diligent in educating them and giving them this chance, and we believe the vast majority will benefit. This elevates the importance of all of these subjects. No one thing we are covering is more important than the other. This helps give us and them a fighting chance to cope with potential problems. And they should leave here knowing they are not alone in dealing with the challenges."

Former NFL player and current TV analyst Merril Hoge on Sunday night moderated a panel of players who last season completed their initial NFL seasons. The group included Kevin Boss of the New York Giants, Ed Johnson of the Indianapolis Colts, Tank Tyler of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jared Gaither of the Baltimore Ravens.

Tyler said when he sat in the rookie audience last year, he was eager to finish the symposium and get back to his family before the start of training camp. He challenged the group to be patient, listen and learn. Boss told them there was information to be gained here that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Rookie rundown

Rookies in attendance at this week's NFL Rookie Symposium will learn about all facets of life in the NFL, from money management to dealing with fans to the league's steroid policy. Here are just a few of the mandatory sessions taking place Monday through Wednesday:

» Introduction to Life Skills Program
Scenario: Life as a Rookie

» Roundtable Discussion: Life as a Rookie
Moderator: Merril Hoge

» Breakout Group Sessions:
Choices, Decisions, Consequences

» Roundtable Discussion:
Overcoming Adversity: A Player's Perspective

» View from the Front Office:
Rick Smith, General Manager, Houston Texans

» Roundtable Discussion:
Success On & Off The Field
Moderator: Adam Schefter

» "Final Remarks" -- Cris Carter

Tyler said: "When you are drafted, everyone around you says, 'We made it.' No, you made it. You will hear from friends who want you to pay their lawyer fees and family who feel you must help them to no end. And then they will ask you what kind of real friend you are if you don't say yes. Ask them what kind of real friend they are with it being your first year in the NFL and they are most concerned about your finances."

That seemed to resonate with the rookies.

Several nodded as if they had already experienced that situation.

Gaither suggested that the rookies create a fund for their friends and families, a specific dollar amount, and when that money is gone, simply say no.

All on the panel offered advice for the rookies about the longer NFL season compared to the college one, and the importance of training and resting properly for endurance.

Duane Brown, a Houston Texans rookie, was impressed with an exercise he experienced in a late-evening session. He said his group was asked to pass a tennis ball among them in a limited time frame, and that his group struggled to finish the task. Later, they were told to line up single file and for the player in front to throw the ball over the group to the last player in line.

"That was really fascinating to see how to solve a problem as a group, which is a big part of what football and life off the field is about," Brown said. "Right now, guys are really buying into this. I know it's a long process, a lot of meetings and early mornings and late nights, but we're all involved."

By the symposium's conclusion, Fontenot said, the group can look around and likely discern the players who will be impact rookies.

"Some guys' attention span might not be that great with this," Fontenot said. "Sure, they can get through and pay attention the first day. But which guys are going to be as attentive and interested on the last day and the last session as much as they were in the first? The bottom line is it's best to stick with it. It's only going to help us."

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