Jacksonville Jaguars  


Justin Blackmon becomes living lesson for other NFL rookies


In less than a month, Justin Blackmon will be among hundreds of his peers at the NFL Rookie Symposium. The Jacksonville Jaguars' first-round draft pick will hear stories and lectures about how to handle himself on and off the field, how to avoid trouble and other life lessons. He'll feel like "Exhibit A" for days.

He should.

Blackmon's Sunday morning arrest on an aggravated DUI charge and the revelation that his blood-alcohol content was .24 -- three times the legal limit -- jeopardized some potential money in his pending rookie contract, put him in line for league discipline and brought negative attention to a franchise that traded up to the No. 5 overall pick to acquire the talented wide receiver.

That this happened in Stillwater, Okla., where Blackmon played collegiately at Oklahoma State, already has prompted concerns that when players go back to familiar turf with even more prestige and coin in their pockets, situations like this can arise. There's some validity to that because we've seen it happen multiple times. Then again, most players go back to campus at some point and avoid trouble.

In speaking to a head coach last week regarding off-the-field misconduct, I was told that regardless of how much time an NFL staff has with players, if a player is going to mess up, it doesn't really matter where they are or how much supervision a team provides during business hours.

Yes, odds for trouble could increase when a player is with friends in a comfortable environment, but a lack of discipline and responsibility outweighs just about everything else. Again, more players go home, hang with friends they grew up with and avoid trouble than those who've found themselves in situations like Blackmon.

The conversation with this coach arose because a general manager recently told me he was somewhat concerned about how the new collective bargaining agreement created less time for players at facilities, with the backbone of the reductions designed to keep players fresher, healthier in the short and long terms and to stop overzealous coaches from grinding on guys. Voluntary workouts were reduced from 14 weeks to nine, and organized team activities (OTAs) were dropped from 14 workouts to 10.

This GM said he believed the changes were fine for veteran players. Rookies needed to be around more, though, if for nothing else than for additional time in the weight rooms and classrooms to hear more of what they'll learn at the rookie symposium.

Continued dialogue about how to manage money, friends and family is crucial, this GM said, because every year, dozens of rookies will tap out of money when the checks stop coming in January, then they'll get loans or advances on the contracts of future years and find themselves in potentially merciless financial trouble. They don't understand that the microscope tends to shine hotter for player problems than it does for touchdowns scored, he argued.

It's a great idea in theory, but no matter how many examples you give players of pitfalls or warnings of what's coming their way, some of them will mess up. It's like that in nearly every aspect of life.

Jaguars rookie WR Justin Blackmon was arrested Sunday in Stillwater, Okla., on an aggravated DUI charge.
Jaguars rookie WR Justin Blackmon was arrested Sunday in Stillwater, Okla., on an aggravated DUI charge. (Special to NFL.com)

To the head coach's point: Blackmon got in trouble on the weekend. Teams don't have their arms around players then, even during the season. Whether he had been at a minicamp, OTA workout or with coaches all day after lifting weights, Blackmon got in trouble at a time when former NFL coach Tony Dungy used to say only no good happens.

Blackmon already had a DUI arrest, in 2010 in Texas. He opted to tempt fate and got caught -- again. And for those who argue that players shouldn't go back to where they made their mark because trouble could follow, most of these former college stars often receive the star treatment (and passes on misdeeds) in those towns.

Guys are going to mess up, no matter how many Adam Joneses, Ryan Leafs or Leonard Littles we have as examples. Some folks think they're above it all. Hopefully, they'll learn. That's more of the issue than where guys spend their free time or team supervision. Right now, rookies and vets are talking about Blackmon's DUI. More than one of them will find themselves in some type of headline-grabbing situation other than scoring a touchdown or preventing one.

Not that the NFL or NFL Players Association shouldn't try harder to educate and protect players. They have, they are and they will continue to do so. Other than the rookie symposium, each team has a player development director who helps players at every turn with things as simple as finding doctors for their wives and kids to providing financial advice. The NFLPA sends reps to teams at least once a year to follow up on several programs. There is year-round support for players from multiple angles.

In Blackmon's case, he could have called a cab, or someone could have called one for him. The NFLPA and NFL have transportation programs in place for employees if they're in this bind. Even though Blackmon isn't yet under contract, he had options.

He chose the wrong one, and for that, he'll be "Exhibit A."

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.



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