PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The skits. The role playing. The small breakout sessions. The panel discussions. The veterans' advice. The video showing victims of drunk driving. The commissioner's taped message. The NFLPA executive director's riveting motivational message and fervent warnings.
This week's NFL Rookie Symposium offered repeated messages to the league's first-year players that, in essence, leave them no excuse to become the next one scammed, bankrupt, arrested or shot. Yet it's the examples of current players -- Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Donte' Stallworth -- who didn't heed the warnings offered at this annual session that have these rookies' attention about the pitfalls that lie ahead.
No player, maybe no professional athlete, has taken a harder fall from grace than Vick. At one point, he was the star whom many of these rookies idolized. Now he's finishing a 23-month prison sentence on dogfighting charges under home confinement in Hampton, Va. He's also indefinitely suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vick's fortune is gone, and what's left is being scrutinized for debt restructuring in bankruptcy court.
Vick's future isn't in his hands. When it was, he made mistakes from which most of these rookies will learn. Some won't. There are players here who have dozed off during discussions or spent time texting whomever. There are players who have participated in every discussion, taken diligent notes and shown the type of interest to make you think this symposium matters.
People who have run or participated in the symposium for years said they have noticed the players who tend to succeed also were attentive and active participants. Players who routinely stress out their locker rooms and coaching staffs, get in trouble or have their careers end for non-football-related issues behaved like knuckleheads at the symposium.
Adam "Pacman" Jones' name came up more than once. So did Maurice Clarett's.
On Monday, so did Burress'.
In an intriguing panel discussion and a series of skits about guns, former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley talked about how he used to illegally carry a pistol when he played for the Buffalo Bills until he became so paranoid that he tossed his weapon into Niagara Falls.
That fate entailed Burress carrying an illegally possessed weapon into a public place -- Wiley said he did that all the time, including onto league property (team facilities, stadiums) -- discharging the weapon, shooting himself in the leg, being cut by his team, being charged with a felony and facing discipline from the commissioner.
Burress' criminal trial might not take place for months, which technically could provide a window for him to play next season. However, Goodell recently initiated a review of the case stemming from Burress' gun discharging in a New York club last March. The commissioner could suspend Burress before his trial based on the league's personal-conduct policy and keep him from playing, at least temporarily.
Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, chosen No. 8 overall, said hearing Wiley and others speak bluntly about their personal choices, regrets, anxieties and temptations sent a better message than deciphering media reports about Vick, Burress and other players. Even so, Monroe said he has followed the demise of Burress, Vick and Stallworth and that the opportunity for redemption is a 50-50 deal that could be prevented, even if there is nothing more to redeem than a missed block that resulted in a sack.
"A lot of times, guys end up in the wrong situations, whether it's being in the wrong place at the wrong time or making poor decisions," Monroe said. "Seeing those things play out here and in real life lets me, and hopefully others, realize that you really don't want to get caught up with those things."
"People would love to be an NFL player. A lot of them, like me, strive to be an NFL player," said Mack, a first-round pick. "What we do, people see. They take notice, so how we behave and carry ourselves matters a lot. I've heard it a lot: 'Those guys make a lot of money. Why would they do such stupid things?'
"Most people would love to be in our position, and they wouldn't do such stupid things. I hope I don't. You shouldn't want to lose what we have."
That appreciation for the opportunity is the point that the NFL and NFLPA is trying to drive home during the symposium. Most players recognize that. Some will forget about what it took for them to even get to the symposium and do something that will cost them. It will be their loss, not the NFL's. Players are replaced.
As much as Vick made the Atlanta Falcons relevant, his successor, Matt Ryan, is the toast of the town and soon could be as widely admired as Vick was around the country. The New York Giants drafted two players to step in for Burress. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for whom Burress used to play, also have done pretty well without him, winning two Super Bowl championships.
The game moves on.
Floating around is an idea about Vick being the perfect player to speak to rookies at future symposiums to tell them how unexpectedly and how easily life can change. It's a great idea, especially since those players could hear from a young man who still has a lot of life left to be a contributor to society, if not the NFL.
A lot of players who already know what Vick has been through would be riveted. But some would catch up on their sleep, and others would daydream about what they'd rather be doing than listen to somebody else's problems -- until something happens to make them realize that the game was here before them and it will continue after them.