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More than symbolic? Goodell, Smith address rookies together

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Standing side by side in a posture that resembled a unified front, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Wednesday that they will continue working to have a labor pact settled in the near future.

"What we are doing on the business of football on a macro scale is about getting a fair deal done and trying to get back to the game and business of football as quickly as possible," Smith said in a joint statement to the media in which the duo didn't take questions.

Smith and Goodell appeared together at the NFLPA's rookie symposium to jointly address 155 players. Said Smith: "This event was important to ensure our young men appreciated how important we think these few days are."

Added Goodell: "I would just say that it was a great opportunity for us to be able to sit with the rookies. They obviously had lots of questions. We answered the questions as best we could, but you all know that we're under certain restrictions.

"We're taking a break because we felt it was important to be down here with the players. We both have great respect, obviously, for the players. This is an important few days. We're going to get back to work."

Smith and Goodell will head back to Minneapolis on the same plane Wednesday to resume labor discussions, with the league-imposed lockout in its fourth month. Smith and Goodell broke from talks Tuesday night to travel to Florida together for the rookie symposium.

After sharing breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the rookie meetings are being held, the leaders of their respective parties spoke to and took questions from rookies in an hour-long session.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the questions were "poignant" and that Goodell and Smith answered them the best they could in light of a confidentiality order regarding the negotiations.

"It was important that the players see this is not personal," Atallah said. "It was important that the players see that (Goodell and Smith) can work through their differences in a constructive way, and that hopefully sooner rather than later they'll be playing football."

One of the rookies present, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, wrote on his official Twitter account, "We grilled them haha they answered the questions in a political manner."

Goodell was invited to the symposium by Smith, who said he was "thrilled" the commissioner accepted and participated.

The outwardly friendly relationship between the men continues to show the ice has thawed between the parties and that progress, as several league and players association members said, is being made.

After speaking to reporters, Goodell and Smith toured the IMG Academy in nearby Bradenton, where some of the rookie functions are being held. It's also where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are holding a three-day, player-run minicamp.

Goodell and Smith spoke to some Bucs players before heading to the airport en route to Minnesota. NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and other association leaders spoke to Bucs players for 25 minutes Tuesday.

Among those speaking to the rookies Tuesday was former New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was released from prison this month after serving nearly two years on a weapon possession charge.

"Plaxico spoke candidly about the impact of personal decisions on a professional career," Atallah said.

The two-day symposium covered proper behavior on and off the field, financial education and planning, dealing with media and other information to prepare rookies for a future in the NFL. The union scheduled the event after the league canceled its annual rookie symposium because of the lockout.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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