Brock Vereen Talks About NFL Rookie Symposium.............

Discussion in 'Front Page News' started by soulman, Jul 11, 2014.

  1. soulman

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    Oct 14, 2004
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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images
    Behind the Face Mask
    15 hours ago
    My Career Starts Now

    Chicago Bears safety Brock Vereen, a fourth-round draft pick in May, recently attended the NFL Rookie Symposium in Ohio with the rest of the league's first-year players. Here is his account of what he learned at the enlightening event

    By Brock Vereen

    Begin with the end in mind.

    2014 Hall of Fame inductee Aeneas Williams repeated this message as he wrapped up the first session of the NFL Rookie Symposium for the NFC teams. After three long days of presentations, meetings and panels, we heard the most important lesson of all. But all of the events that got us to that final moment made up an informative and influential couple of days for those of us who took advantage.

    I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the symposium. Despite having an older brother who attended three years ago, as well as other friends and teammates who have been there, everyone said it was something you have to experience firsthand to truly understand.

    What I heard most often about the symposium is that sitting in on countless meetings and presentation after presentation is a grueling process. I can say that it fully lived up to these expectations, and at times even exceeded them. But the difference between the symposium and some boring college lecture was knowing the information and insight was increasing the possibility of having a long and healthy career.

    Having an older brother who has been in the NFL for some time has given me a unique perspective on how the league functions. One of the things that my brother and I previously discussed, which was reaffirmed by other current and former NFL players at the symposium, is what everyone refers to as the “rookie wall.”

    The Rookie Symposium

    Every summer, the NFL's first-year players travel to a hotel in Ohio for a crash course on what life is really like in pro football. This year, we went too. PART I | PART II

    What a lot of people do not realize is that rookies endure a constant physical and mental grind for more than a year. Training camp for their final college season begins in August, bowl games wrap up in December and January, training for the combine begins immediately after that, and after the draft they are thrown right into OTAs, followed by training camp and then another 20-plus week season. The players that spoke to us admitted to feeling drained at some stage. Their advice: Draw motivation from the fact you’re living out your lifelong dream.

    The best part about the group of guys that the NFL placed before us was that their discussions went far beyond what takes place on the football field. Patrick Kerney’s financial presentation went into detail about the money we are making, where it will go, and how to avoid being deceived by outsiders who want a piece of it. Eddie George, Jordan Palmer and others discussed entrepreneurship and how an NFL salary does not have to be your only source of income. Perhaps the most emotional of all of the discussions was Brian Banks, who was strong enough to tell us his story of how to remain positive and keep faith even through a trial filled with deception and lies.

    The breakout sessions were definitely the area where the most progress was happening. We were paired up with the Arizona Cardinals, and together we were able to discuss the issues from the big group meetings in much more detail and from a more personal standpoint.

    One of the most intense moments from the breakout sessions was the discussion of money and how it can potentially change family members and friends who may feel they are entitled to it. Players talked about about how they felt pressure to help out those who are close to them, as well as the frustration that people do not fully realize that being in the NFL does not automatically make you a millionaire from day one. We discussed how to deal with these family members and friends who will come knocking, and how to determine who deserves assistance and who doesn’t. It was a strange feeling at first, bonding with players from another team, but in the end I was able to walk away with a few more friends and much more confidence about what to expect during my rookie season.

    Each presenter and speaker seemed to have his own unique style. Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Warren Sapp were able to find a perfect combination of humor and harsh reality in their open panel Q&A. Ricky Williams and Deion Branch kept a calm, cool and collected demeanor throughout, and then former NBA player Chris Herren used a style that was raw and rugged and left no stone unturned as he took us through a haunting tale about his fall from the top to the absolute bottom.
    Rookies spent part of the symposium with Cleveland area youth at an NFL Play 60 event. (Phil Long/AP)

    What all of these speakers had in common was an ability to reach us and capture our attention. Whether it was through fear, stating the statistics that most of the rookies in that room will be out of the league in three years, or through motivation, that we deserved to be sitting in those chairs, every one of them provided the opportunity to learn something that could immediately be applied.

    And yet, during a panel discussion, Jordan Palmer called out the people who were sleeping in their chairs. It was a simple reminder that the players on the panel did not have to be there. They were taking time out of their week to come help us, and that should be appreciated. The unfortunate reality, as was covered by some of the speakers, is that even after the symposium and all of the tales of DUIs, arrests, and other setbacks and mishaps, it is more than likely that some of us rookies will make the mistakes that those before us are trying to help us avoid.

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    It’s unrealistic to expect all issues that arise with NFL players to suddenly come to an end. However, the NFL is providing us with both the information and the tools to prevent any of this from happening. At the end of the day we are grown men, and now that we have the necessary advice it is our choice as to what we do with it.

    One of the great things that the symposium brought out of all the rookies was that everyone was able to be themselves. There was never any feeling of self-entitlement from anyone. Whether you were a first-rounder or a seventh-rounder, it seemed to be widely understood that none of that mattered now. We were all just rookies with something to prove.

    For me, the most exciting part was the final morning when we visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There was no better way to wrap up 72 hours of hearing how to be successful in the NFL than to pay homage to those who were more successful than anyone. Walking through all of the galleries, videos, and busts was all the motivation anyone would need rolling into their first NFL training camp.

    The Hall of Fame tour concluded with Aeneas Williams speaking to us about how, even though it may have been our lifelong dream to become an NFL player, knowing what path we want to take once our time is up is just as important. Sometimes it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that we are not going to play this game forever. As he finished up chanting Begin with the end in mind! and as we all loaded up the buses and headed to the airport, it was never more clear that the NFL will provide more opportunities than any of us rookies could have ever imagined. To call ourselves NFL players was the highest privilege anyone could ever receive.
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  2. soulman

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    Interesting read and well presented through the eyes and ears of Brock Vereen.

    I'm often critical of the NFL itself and the way it treats it's player like so much chattel but in this case the NFL with the help of the NFLPA has done a great service for these rookies by providing them with some education and some insights into how their lives are about to change. So my hat's off to them and to the many current and former players who take their time to help with advice and by sharing personal messages with these young players. It's a great thing they're doing.
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  3. JustAnotherBearsFan99

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    May 21, 2012
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    1. Dynamite program for the rookies.
    2. Vereen sounds like a class-act guy.
    3. Thanks for posting this, Soul. Great article.
  4. soulman

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    So This is the NFL, Part I
    Every summer, the NFL's first-year players travel to a hotel in Northeast Ohio for a crash course on what life is really like in pro football. This year, we were there too. Here are Days 1 and 2 at the Rookie Symposium

    Robert Klemko

    AURORA, Ohio — The Rookie Symposium is not the first test of an NFL player’s resolve, and it is never the last. Its importance is ambiguous; a matter of individual realization. You can sleep through it, as Ryan Leaf did during the second symposium in 1998. Or you can take pages upon pages of notes, as one intrepid neophyte, the one drafted in front of Leaf, did that same year (a rare sight; organizers still recall Peyton Manning’s week fondly). There’s not one right way to do the symposium, just like there’s no perfect path through an NFL career.

    There is, of course, a wrong way.

    This time around, the stage is Aurora, Ohio, at the Bertram Inn, a three-star spot that goes for $69 a night during weeks when the NFL hasn’t booked it exclusively and posted security guards at both street entrances. Rookies from the 16 NFC teams have flown in from all over the contiguous U.S., and on Sunday night they find themselves together in a dark ballroom seated in leather chairs organized in rows according to team.

    Former Chiefs general manager and current Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli takes the stage in a tan blazer bathed in blue light.

    So This is the NFL, Part II

    Warren Sapp and Cris Carter stop by with some hard truths, the rookies learn about hangers-on, and everyone takes a field trip to the Hall of Fame. Check out Robert Klemko's piece on Days 3 and 4 at the Rookie Symposium. FULL STORY

    “Some of you might say, I’m just a football player; I don’t see myself as a role model,” he says. “You will find that young people look up to you. There are people with jobs much harder than ours who look up to you. To whom much is given, much is expected.”

    Secluded in a corner pocket of the ballroom, the next speakers wait their turn. All three of them were here as students a year ago, and all three became starters in their rookie seasons. Gio Bernard, the clean-cut speedster from North Carolina via Ft. Lauderdale, will join the former black sheep son of an NFL legend, Bears guard Kyle Long, and southern-fried Rams running back Zac Stacy in the opening panel. The three of them crack jokes and watch Pioli’s 30-minute presentation on a flat screen in the green room, ducking out occasionally to check on the USA-Portugal soccer match in another room.

    Just before it’s the sophomores’ turn, Bernard turns serious.
    “No matter what you say, there are guys who are going to listen, and some who just aren’t.”

    Day 1

    This is the most elaborate and expensive orientation in American professional sports. The league previously held the symposium in a different town every year, but in 2012 decided the final day should end in a visit to nearby Canton and the Hall of Fame. This isn’t the league filling out some human resources checklist. For the men and women who work the event, this is an effort to better the lives of its athletes by letting them know exactly what’s available to them, and what’s expected of them. It’s part of the league’s effort to see fewer DUIs, concussions, drug charges and suspensions, incidences of off-field violence and post-career poverty.

    The location has changed, but the timing of the symposium is non-negotiable. The league wants to reach its first-year players before each decides what to do in July, the month with the greatest potential for both growth and misbehavior.

    “Right now,” Pioli says, “is the most dangerous time of your rookie season.”
    You’ll be surprised if you wake up and five G’s are missing from your account,” Stacy tells the rookies. “You’ll be lookin’ ugly.

    After Pioli’s 30 minutes, and a brief Q&A session, are done, the panel of second-year players begins. Long, Bernard and Stacy are joined by mediator Ross Tucker, a former NFL offensive lineman who is 15 years older than the sophomores. Before long, they’re schooling him on something called Tinder.

    “Don’t give your number out,” a sophomore says, “or you’ll have to change it.”

    They recall how one attendee of the 2013 symposium invited a woman to his hotel room and was fleeced of his valuables.

    Said Long: “There’s a business in taking advantage of guys like us.” The moral: “Don’t trust people.”

    The sophomores are blunt and, often, tongue-in-cheek. Stacy steals the show.

    On cooking: “Try to cook something. I ain’t the best cook. Throw some hot pockets in the stove or something.”

    On the rookie wall: “I hit mine during OTAs.”

    On women who pursued players in college: “Cut ’em off.”

    Long follows: “Throwback Thursday.”

    Bernard piles on: “Flashback Friday.”

    Bears rookie running back Ka’Deem Carey sticks his teammate with a tough question: “How do you deal with the success your family had in football?”

    Long, brother of Chris, son of Howie, pauses to think.

    “That’s a good one Ka’Deem,” he says, “I just have a chip on my shoulder. I’m still mad that my brother’s high school jersey got retired.”

    Tucker is an old pro in this realm, having hosted radio shows and podcasts as a full-fledged member of the all-encompassing “media” so often discussed and derided among these players. With Tucker on his feet and playing point, the panel moves from online dating to head injuries to the virtues of mobile banking alerts.

    Says Stacy with a drawl: “You’ll be surprised if you wake up and five G’s are missing from your account. You’ll be lookin’ ugly.”

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    After the panel breaks up and the rookies head into their breakout groups, Stacy departs the symposium for the second time in his career. The panel was a time for jokes, he says, because the rookies looked half-asleep. The breakout groups, on the other hand, are something serious. Rams rookies were paired with the Vikings a year ago. In that intimate setting, Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd shared part of his story of family tragedy and abuse.

    Despite my unique access to the inner-workings of the symposium, the breakout is a setting not open to the media. Teams worry that a media presence, no matter how discreet, could stunt the progress happening in the room. Thus, I have to ask insiders what it’s like.
    Says Stacy, “It wasn’t no light, funny thing.”
    Rookies at the symposium, shown here in 2013, face long days of lectures, with various former players heading up each session. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

    Day 2

    Every team has a player engagement rep and a clinician present, and many send more than that. In recent years, teams have staged similar rookie seminars prior to the symposium and throughout the season. Many team reps believe the league symposium should be longer, or broken into two sessions, before and after the season. Some wonder why the league’s many undrafted rookies aren’t here in Aurora. All take a great deal of pride in their work.

    “This isn’t just about educating them,” says one NFC clinician, “it’s about empowering them.”

    After a buffet breakfast in the hotel’s conference center annex, the players reconvene at 7:45 a.m. for a trivia session with former Giants wide receiver and current NFL employee David Tyree. Using remote keypads, players answer questions pertaining to yesterday’s lectures with prizes ranging from footballs to Bose stereo equipment for the individual and team winners. They will do this at the beginning of each large session.

    “Rap with me, rap with me,” Tyree says, quieting the room. “What percentage of you won’t be around by Year 4?”

    The answer was part of Pioli’s presentation: 40%.

    The morning is filled with breakout groups splitting the rookies into amphitheaters for four sessions: Respect at Work, Financial Strength, DUI Prevention and Emotional Wellness.
    Donte Stallworth’s career never rebounded after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter charges in 2009. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

    Next up is a panel on “total wellness” led by former NFL players Donte Stallworth, James Thrash and Patrick Kearney. Stallworth led the two smaller group sessions on DUI prevention. In partnership with MADD, the session is essentially a reminder to use a combination of the many resources, such as Uber, and common sense to avoid a fate like Stallworth’s.

    It is Stallworth’s first time at the symposium following his 2009 arrest—and jail term—for DUI manslaughter in the death of 59-year-old Miami man Mario Reyes. The moderator is Dwight Hollier, an NFL linebacker from 1992 to ’99, the bulk of it with Miami. He’s not as engaging as Tucker, but he knows his subject matter intimately, steering the conversation to Stallworth.

    “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes,” Stallworth told them. “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Let me be your experience. Let me make the mistake. Learn it today from me, not on your own. You don’t want to think, every single day, that you were involved in ending someone’s life.”

    Thrash details his encounters with homeless men in Washington, which gave him a new perspective in privilege. Kearney talks about the importance of considering life after the game. Stallworth offers insight on the NFL’s plan to phase out use of the N-word on the field.

    “Bill Belichick won’t allow those words at all,” he says. “The more you train yourself, the better off you’ll be.”

    Another breakout follows, then lunch, then another large session. This time it’s Rams team physician Dr. Matthew Matava, who reads off warnings from a laundry list, and recites a doctor’s suggestion that makes perfect sense, but simply doesn’t translate to the gridiron.

    “If you see a guy who may have a head injury, notify the medical staff,” Matava says. “Let them know that the guy next to you is not himself.”

    Blank stares.

    “If you combine anti-inflammatories, you may lose blood through your gastrointestinal system resulting in anemia.”

    Blanker stares.

    At 3:15 pm, the doctor is out and the ex-player parade returns. Eddie George, Donovin Darius, Ricky Williams and Brian Banks will lead a panel on “reaching out,” meant to spell out the resources available to rookies. The players are familiar with each man’s story before it’s spelled out in NFL Films clips on the big screens. George, the Ohio State legend, played nine NFL seasons and graced the cover of Madden when most of the rookies were in elementary school. Few rookies would have remembered the blockbuster trade that made Ricky Williams a Saints draft pick in 1999, but all should recall his marijuana suspension and subsequent early retirement in 2004, before a return to the Dolphins and a CFL stint. Darius was a first-round pick of the Jaguars in ’98 and last played for the Dolphins in 2007, and now works in Player Engagement.

    Learn it today from me, not on your own,” Stallworth told them. “You don’t want to think, every single day, that you were involved in ending someone’s life.

    Banks is the only wild card. There is no Films reel to explain his story, so he does it himself: He was falsely accused of rape as a high school junior, spent five years in prison before being exonerated, and was a preseason member of the Falcons last season.

    For the first time in this symposium, the room seems captivated with one person.

    A rookie asks, “Have you forgiven the woman who falsely accused you?”

    Banks: “For me all I ever wanted was my freedom back. I didn’t seek revenge. I’m done with this completely. I could forgive her or I could keep hating her, but I just have to move on.

    “What am I gonna do with this small window of opportunity? Am I gonna wait for somebody to give it to me, or am I going to take it? Running out of that tunnel with the fireworks and the crowd screaming, that’s an experience you’ll never feel again. Take advantage of it.”
    Brian Banks lived out his dream in 2013, attending training camp and playing in preseason games with the Falcons. (David Goldman/AP)

    Darius alludes to his post-career depression and pointed to Junior Seau’s case as a warning against internalizing angst. Williams and George warn against the same.

    “It behooves you,” George said, “to begin this journey with the end in mind.”

    More breakout sessions. More food. Long tables filled with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, salad bars, greens, fruits, chips and M&Ms with tiny NFC team logos printed on them.

    Former NBA player Chris Herren is the night speaker, and his story is a familiar one to NFL staffers who are captivated nonetheless. Herren’s addiction to narcotics, including Oxycontin and heroin, saw a promising NBA career dashed and his life threatened on numerous occasions. Wearing a dark blue suit and nursing a cough for his third symposium, Herren paces back and forth in the green room with his hands clasped. Upon introduction he skips to the stage and fist bumps a production assistant.

    He describes his first hard-drug experience: “That one line would take 14 years to walk away from.”

    Forty-five minutes later, the rookies file out with mixed expressions of “wow” and exhaustion. It has been the longest day of the symposium, and there’s another breakout session remaining. For 12 hours, they’ve learned about addiction, DUIs and depression from men who experienced them, all former players.

    This was not always the design of the symposium. It began under a director who favored skits in which counselors would act out scenarios that might occur in players’ lives. When Troy Vincent was hired as VP of Player Engagement in 2010, the former Eagles cornerback re-hauled the format. Vincent, who had spoken at the symposium every year since ’98, brought in recent retirees who were his contemporaries. He put an emphasis on identifying former players who hadn’t walked the straight and narrow, making them uniquely equipped to offer insight.

    “Troy was a visionary in terms of the way he structured this thing,” Hollier says. “With the peer to peer process, when you see a guy who’s worn the boots, the connection is powerful.”
    Vincent was in the process of planning this symposium when he was promoted to Executive VP of Football Operations in March. The philosophical shift opened the door for a Pacman Jones a year ago, and Stallworth and Player Engagement rep Tank Johnson, a former defensive tackle who was arrested multiple times during his career. After Monday night’s breakouts, Johnson, 32, stopped to laugh, “Who would’ve thought Tank Johnson would be here giving advice?”

    Vincent’s vision carried on without him.
    #4 soulman, Jul 11, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2014
  5. soulman

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    So This is the NFL, Part II

    Every summer, the NFL's first-year players travel to a hotel in Northeast Ohio for a crash course on what life is really like in pro football. This year, we were there too. The rookies took two field trips and were hit with some blunt advice from Hall of Famers during Days 3 and 4 at the annual Rookie Symposium

    Robert Klemko

    AURORA, Ohio — The players are exhausted on all fronts. Some are even annoyed.
    This has been the message for as long as there’s been a rookie symposium in the NFL: Odds are, you won’t make it in this league.

    It’s Day 3 of the league’s annual orientation in Aurora, Ohio, and Niners VP of Football Affairs Keena Turner can see the mental fatigue setting in: “Players get tired of hearing that the average career only lasts three years, but it’s like my kids; I can’t just tell them something once and expect them to get it.”

    Says former player J.R. Tolver, a Tuesday panel speaker, “You hear that three-year thing and you say, That’s them, not me. After a while they keep saying it and you’re like, Next.
    From the time they arrived Sunday, one rookie estimates he’s heard the three-year stat no less than 30 times. There’s good reason: These four days are up against, in some cases, a lifetime of poor mentorship and the impending summer of idle hands and fat checkbooks.

    DAY 3

    So This is the NFL, Part I
    Second-year stars talk groupies, Eddie George talks life after football, and Donte Stallworth talks about avoiding the tragic mistake he made. Check out Robert Klemko's account of the Rookie Symposium's first two days. FULL STORY

    Money is a constant theme here, whether it’s the earning, saving, investing or spending. In a morning session on media relations, Tucker tells the rookies a normal 30-second radio commercial costs $5,000, but players get interviewed on the radio for free. They ought to take advantage of the free marketing. NFL Vice President of Football Communications Michael Signora joins Tucker onstage, unintentionally alternating pronunciations of “media” when reading off a teleprompter and not.

    “Remember that you’re talking to fans,” says the Long Island native, “not the medi-er.”
    After the morning session the rookies pile onto buses for their first trip away from the Bertram compound. Traditionally, the third day of the symposium is spent at an NFL Play 60 event hosted by the Browns at their Berea practice facility. Reminded by observant NFL staffers to flip their backwards and upside down visors to the proper position, the rookies join about 100 elementary school kids on the practice field for a series of improvised football drills hosted individually by each team. The results were fantastic.

    You know those Play 60 commercials with exuberant kids and grinning football players running around in slow motion as if they’ve never been happier? It was like that, but in real life… for two hours. Chris Borland, the 49ers’ fourth-round linebacker, dazzles a group with a tumbling routine including three backflips. Vikings rookies take turns placing playful jams on mini-receivers. Washington rookies bash children with orange handheld pads, looking sheepishly back at NFL chaperones for approval as the kids tumble to their bellies.
    Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas and the rest of the NFC rookies had the chance to play around at a Play 60 seminar. (Tony Dejak/AP)

    Some 20 reporters wait for Michael Sam to submit to an interview, one of few since his coming out prior to the 2014 NFL draft. Yet none of the assembled scribes work up the nerve to ask a question overtly related to his sexuality, much less mention the word “gay.”

    Local media swarm Teddy Bridgewater, who is asked to defend comments that he’d told his agent Cleveland was not where he wanted to go on draft night.

    When the interviews are done and the children have had enough, a BBQ awaits at the end of the field. The kids have a chance to sit and admire players up close, but halfway through lunch the long-posturing clouds open up and the party’s over.

    By 2:30 p.m., the rookies are back in the big room. Dr. John York, co-owner of the 49ers, is talking about the NFL’s expansive efforts to track injuries and make the game safer. It’s the first time in 17 years they’ve had an owner at the symposium. To the chagrin of several organizers, a restless rookie shouts “What’s up Doc!” when York takes the stage.

    A lack of couth is nothing new at the symposium. Many on the production crew have been working the audio and visual components of the event since 1998. They can recall, from nearly each symposium, the players they thought would suffer in the NFL based on behavior here. Sean Taylor, who was fined for leaving the 2004 symposium, was an obvious choice. When he wasn’t skipping sessions, Pacman Jones actually turned his back to the speakers and slept for some of the symposium.

    At the 1998 symposium in Denver, Ryan Leaf stretched out across three chairs and slept, then left. Meanwhile, a few seats away Peyton Manning filled his notebook. Guess which one is a Super Bowl champion and which one currently sits in a Montana prison.

    There are sleepers in 2014, too. One observer counted three snoozers during the 8 a.m. media session. And while a rules session with Dean Blandino brings excitement over highlight-reel hits, a dozen questions and some dry wit from the NFL’s officiating boss, there are more sleepers by the time Tolver, Ryan Mundy, Jordan Palmer and Deion Branch step up for a panel on life after football.

    Tolver, whose wife and young daughter listen in the green room, describes how he turned earnings from six pro football seasons into a successful Panamanian commercial recycling business. Branch describes his experience shadowing a homicide detective in Albany, Ga., in 2004—and the subsequent realization that he never wanted to be a homicide detective.
    All talk about the importance of networking, with Palmer clarifying: “The bottle service guy is not part of your network.”
    Not surprisingly, Michael Sam was a popular man during media availability during Tuesday’s outing. (Tony Dejak/AP)

    As the panel wraps up, the league’s breakout facilitators prepare their conference rooms for the second-to-last session of the symposium. Donovin Darius, an NFL safety for 10 seasons who was hired by the league a year ago, lights a Yankee candle and plays A Tribe Called Quest’s mellow classic “Check The Rhime.”

    The lights are on when the Rams and Buccaneers rookies arrive in a room with about 15 chairs arranged in a semicircle facing inward. There’s no sleeping here. The conversations in the private setting are engaging and informative. Panel speakers occasionally drop in to answer questions, but this is about the players figuring it out for themselves.

    “I just facilitate,” Darius says. “As they come out of here they’re going to have a game plan for success, not because I gave it to them, but because they learned and listened.”

    Taped up on the walls of the room are seven large pieces of paper with categories of challenges the rookies will face: Family, Friends, Financial, Character, Relationship, Rookie Year and that all-important Next Month. By the end of the session, the pages will be filled with specific challenges, solutions and resources.

    Near the end of his second symposium, Darius rattles off the most consistent concerns of players:

    How do you deal with females understanding that you’re now a target?

    How do you deal with the entitlement of family members who now see you for what you can give them?

    Who can I trust to support my interests in the NFL?

    Everyone is TMZ,” Carter tells them. “Even the ones in your crew,” adds Sapp.

    “This generation is much more aware than we were,” says Darius. “They’re more confident than we were, because of technology and everything available to them. The danger is too much information. You can get paralysis by analysis.”

    Dinner is Bubba Q’s boneless ribs, a revelation to the SEC rookie contingent. Bubba (former NFL defensive end Al Baker) has developed a way to remove the bone from the rack of ribs without damaging the integrity of the meat, an innovation that landed him on the reality show Shark Tank and propelled his Avon, Ohio-based business into a regional power.

    But Bubba is just an appetizer for the symposium’s main course. Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Warren Sapp have agreed, for a small fee, to lead the last panel discussion. They are introduced on the big screens with a video montage; each of them watches from the green room. There’s a clip from early in Sapp’s career, a Bucs-Vikings game with the pair going head-to-head. In it, Carter sidles up to a corn-rowed Sapp after a play and says, “Big fella, I’m gonna give a you a little bit more time to use what God gave you. You a leader. God wanna’ use you. You ain’t get all that talent for yourself!”

    Watching the clip from a green room couch, Sapp bursts into laughter and falls to his side as if he’s been shot.

    The longtime friends take the stage as the rookies applaud. Carter, wearing black and white dress shoes, lays his Hall of Fame jacket across the back of his chair. Sapp wears a polo and jeans, sans jacket. They spend about 30 seconds in the chairs before advancing to the edge of the stage. Before they were legends, both stumbled on and off the field. Tonight, they deliver a message of practicality.

    “Do not believe them when they tell you [your team] is a family,” Sapp says. “When you go to Disney World with your family and the baby is falling behind, everybody stops for the baby. That’s what a family does. But this is a brotherhood of men. You’re going to have to be accountable to the men that you line up with.”

    Sapp’s delivery is understated. He clenches a fist, pounding it into an open hand with a fatherly look on his face. Carter is animated, pacing and shouting with the cadence of a Southern Baptist preacher. He brings up Rams rookie Lamarcus Joyner, whom Carter mentored in high school, and invites him to try on his Hall of Fame jacket to the oohs of the crowd.

    “If somebody told you right now, at the end, you could be in the Hall of Fame,” Carter says, “what would you do? Because you need to answer that question in five weeks. If somebody had told me what that jacket would mean, I wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. I wouldn’t have been suspended. I would be a better teammate. I wouldn’t have been doing that dumb s— if somebody had told me what this jacket would mean.”

    Their advice is visceral and blunt.

    Carter: “There’s no hiding crimes anymore. Everybody is TMZ.”

    Sapp: “Even the ones in your crew.”

    Carter: “Say that again, bro.”

    Sapp: “Even the ones in your crew.”

    Carter and Sapp’s formula of braggadocio as motivation works well with this audience. They talk about their jackets and their rings, how their mothers are permanently retired, how Carter has never made less than $250,000 a year since ’87. Sapp once had “as many cars as the garage would hold.”

    “These grown men in the league,” Carter warns, “aren’t trying to give that up.”
    Carter (left) and Sapp were seated when their talk started. They didn’t stay seated for long. (Courtesy of the NFL)

    They start the Q&A right away, and Redskins rookie Lache Seastrunk asks a question that riles up the speakers: “What made you push every day?”

    Says Sapp, “Boy, do you know they’re out there striking over $10 an hour?”

    Carter: “What more motivation do you need? I want you to imagine being at Cowboys Stadium, back at home, and they say starting at running back: YOU. Back at home? Imagine how you’d feel! That’s the way you need to feel every morning. Because you’re blessed to even wear that logo, to even have your butt here… There’s only a few of us who’ve ever did this.”

    Michael Sam asks for advice in conquering training camp, and Sapp delights in the opportunity to provide confidence.

    “I watched your tape all day long,” Sapp says. “You know how to rip. I’ve seen you rip to the sky. Trust me, it still works. Go in with the same thing every day, and get a little bit better.”

    Panthers first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin asks about dealing with family demands, and Carter takes the opportunity to call him out. He brings Benjamin on stage and attempts to slip the jacket on, but the 6-5 Benjamin is too long to get the second arm in. Carter drapes it over his shoulders instead.

    “I’m gonna tell you,” Carter says, “you’ve got rare ability. You need to love the game, like when you were a boy. I didn’t always see that at Florida State. You might love your mama, but you don’t love football like I love it.”

    Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater asks the best question of the day: “For many of us, football was the only way out. Do you have any advice on transitioning out of the game?”

    Carter’s advice seems to contradict that of previous panelists.

    “This is the best job you’re ever going to have,” he says. “I don’t like to get too much into your second career, because this is the hardest career you’re ever going to have. They can bring in somebody else to talk to you about your [next] career.”

    They go on for an hour and a half, at times speaking to individual players as if they are the only ones in the room, at times screaming at the top of their lungs. They finish to a standing ovation. This is as honest and energetic as the symposium gets.

    Carter sums it up, stomping and wild-eyed: “Do what the next man won’t.”
    Green Bay Packers first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix snaps a picture of Deacon Jones’ Hall of Fame bust. (Phil Long/AP)

    DAY 4

    The final day is Hall of Fame day. The rookies clear out of the Bertram at 7 a.m. and load onto five charter buses headed down the Ohio turnpike for Canton. A marching band from McKinley High greets them at the entrance, playing a rendition of Waka Flocka Flame’s “O Let’s Do It” that delights Lions tight end Eric Ebron.

    The 10th pick of the draft is the most visible rookie at the NFC symposium, with an auburn-frosted mohawk fade and a constant, magnetic grin. The Lions’ resident rookie storyteller puts the homie in bonhomie. If there was an NFC symposium prom king vote, he would win in a landslide.

    The rookies hear a message from HOF president Dave Baker before embarking on tours. The Lions and 49ers are paired together as one of the final groups.

    Niners third-round center Marcus Martin, the youngest member of the team at 20 years old, arrives as the tour begins at 9:04 am. He overslept and had to catch a ride with NFL staff. The group passes an exhibit featuring an archaic football helmet from 1901 featuring a nose protector that is said to have done more harm than good.

    “I swear on everything,” says Ebron, “I’d have been playing basketball.”

    They happen upon a mural boasting Art Shell as the first black head coach in the NFL’s modern era, in 1989. The rookies are incredulous.

    “That’s crazy,” mutters one. “1989?”

    “That’s like when Tupac got shot,” says another (he’s only seven years off).
    Ebron, the most outspoken rookie in the NFC group, is on the receiving end of a hug from fellow Lions rookie Larry Webster. (Phil Long/AP)

    The tour moves slowly as the groups ahead create a backlog, but soon the Lions and 49ers enter the Hall’s holy grail—the dark, dome-roofed room filled with the bronze busts of every man enshrined. Most of the players skip the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and go straight to Lawrence Taylor, Class of 1999. A few hang back and click through the video boards showing highlights of every enshrinee. Lions defensive lineman Caraun Reid zooms to Colts legend Art Donovan, who attended his high school in the Bronx. In another group, Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy paced his teammates and supplanted the tour guide, rattling off positions and college and statistics for Hall of Famers going back to the 60’s.

    Turner stops to admire the bust of Bill Walsh, the late 49ers coach. “I always have to see my guy when I go on,” he says.

    Turner played linebacker for the 49ers from 1980-90, when Walsh and Dr. Harry Edwards started a resource for players’ lives off the field. At first, Edwards focused on degree completion, bringing in professors from the University of San Francisco to teach classes at the 49ers facility.

    “The whole idea of a resource at the club was Bill Walsh and Dr. Edwards,” Turner says. “At some point down the road the league adopted player programs, which became player engagement and spawned all of this.”

    Ebron, relaying a story, is reminded not to say n——. Player Engagement reps gently remind players on their word choice dozens of times over the course of the symposium.

    In another room, encased in glass, sits the next Lombardi trophy, which will remain in Canton until Super Bowl week in Arizona. Niners rookies agree to take a picture with the trophy, their team having been within a game of winning it in each of the last two seasons. Bruce Ellington thinks there in fact taking a video and breaks into a Nae Nae to everyone’s delight.

    At Ebron’s urging, the Lions skip on posing with the trophy. “We don’t even want to get near it,” he says. “We don’t want to jinx it.”

    They file up a curving ramp and into an amphitheater with two big screens and a rotating base of seats that spins the viewers 180 degrees as they take in NFL Films’ account of the 2013 playoffs, and the Seahawks’ domination of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Niners rookies file out uninspired. Someone else won the trophy half of them had just posed with. Why should they marvel again at the Legion of Boom four months after the fact?

    Fourth-round cornerback Keith Reaser is especially annoyed: “I’m tired of hearing about the damn Seahawks.”

    Back in the big lecture hall the players are getting antsy, wondering when it will all be over. Ebron, relaying a story to a fellow rookie 20 feet away, is reminded not to say n—–. In light of the league’s effort to eradicate the word, Player Engagement reps gently remind young black players on their word choice dozens of times over the course of the symposium.

    “My bad,” Ebron says, “my brotha…”

    The charter buses wait outside and several dozen autograph seekers have lined up along barricades guarded by smiling police officers.
    Aeneas Williams ended the symposium with a speech that differed from those of his fellow Hall of Famers. (Phil Long/AP)

    When Troy Vincent revamped the symposium, he brought in recent retirees who were his contemporaries. He also put an emphasis on men who shared his strong Christian faith. Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, who will give the symposium’s final address, fits the bill on both counts.

    “Think about how you want this thing to end,” says Williams. “Warren and Cris talked about making changes outwardly and not inwardly. When God changed my spirit, it wasn’t that I was made perfect. The difference that Christ made is that there’s now a thought before my actions.”

    There are contradictions at work here, which Williams is bold enough to point out, and which seem to be inherent to the symposium. Beware of all women one speaker suggests, but treat all people as equals, says another. Do the right thing vs. Maintain the appearance of doing the right thing.

    That the NFL has no problem with presenting these contradictions belies the homogenous reputation of the league. As the disparate career path of Hall of Famers Sapp and Williams will tell you, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And in putting both speakers in front of the rookies, the NFL recognizes the value of a shotgun approach in education, and concedes that asking this group to assimilate to one way of doing things is as arrogant as it is flawed.

    He finishes with a request that all participants stand and chant after him, “Begin with the end in mind!” At his urging, it crescendos after a dozen repetitions, then fades as several in the back of the room begin to look at one another incredulously. Surely, this thing must end soon. It does, after maybe two dozen chants.

    Four days after it started in a darkened hotel ballroom, the symposium ends at the doorstep of football’s cathedral, under blue skies. The rookies file onto the buses, which will take them to the airport, which will lead to that critical month they’ve been talking about. They can smell what’s left of the summer.
  6. soulman

    soulman Coordinator
    DBS Writer

    Oct 14, 2004
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    Bloody MaryBig MacBananaApple

    :guinness: Thanks brother. Couldn't wait to post it. I mean how often do we ever get an insight this deep into what goes on for these rookies? This lays the whole thing out not only through Vereen's eyes but with a step by step review of the whole process complete with some very interesting stories from the past.

    I especially liked the comparison of Manning and Leaf with Manning taking page after page of notes while Leaf slept through it all and then the question. "Which one is doing time in a Montana prison"? There are always guys who won't even stop looking for the easy way to do everything until one day it finally catches up with them.

    I was also both surprised and pleased to read just how many current and former Bears players are involved. Especially Tank Johnson as a player engagement rep. For these purposes they couldn't have found a better one. The advice of those who've done it wrong always carries more weight than those who've always done it right. Been there, done that.

    I hope our guys here take the time to read through all of this. It's lengthy but I think it's incredibly interesting and informative. It's not a side of the business we get to hear about every day either. My hats off to all of those involved who have taken the time to help these younger guys become better prepared for what they're about to experience. :23 28 100[1]:
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    BSBEARS Pro-Bowler

    Jan 19, 2014
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    Great article(s) thanks for posting. Took a while to read through it all but well worth it. Was expecting to hear Dave Duerson mentioned with Seau
    "Darius alludes to his post-career depression and pointed to Junior Seau’s case as a warning against internalizing angst. Williams and George warn against the same."

    Love Stallworth's message:

    “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes,” Stallworth told them. “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

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