NFL rookies visit Aurora, warned things can go bad at symposium

by TOM WITHERS | ASSOCIATED PRESS Published:

Berea -- The money can disappear, the fame can vanish. Recently, NFL rookies were reminded that the game's hardest knocks often happen off the field.

During the league's annual Rookie Symposium, first-year players got a crash course into everything that goes into being a professional athlete -- the good, and the bad.

The NFL wants its newest members to be prepared not only for what awaits them this season, but for the years ahead, especially those days when they're no longer making big paychecks or big plays.

Through various educational seminars, candid and sometimes heartbreaking speeches and panel discussions -- including at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora -- players learned the X's and O's of life.

"It's a great opportunity for us to learn from players who've been here, been in our shoes and who are where we want to be," said San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o, the former Notre Dame star who last year was the target of a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.

The AFC's rookie class arrived in Aurora on June 23 to begin the four-day session, which the league constructed as a teaching and bonding experience.

The NFC rookies arrived June 26 and stayed through June 30.

Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was scheduled to conduct a history lesson for AFC rookies on June 26 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. However, the 77-year-old former Cleveland Browns star issued a statement saying he was extremely tired and needed rest.

On June 24, players attended a seminar titled "Are You Bigger Than The Game?" that featured Cincinnati cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and former Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett as speakers.

Jones recently pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, and has had other off-the-field issues that led to league suspensions. He talked frankly about his many errors and warned players about them.

"He's always been a guy who has preached don't do the same mistakes he's done," said New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who knows Jones because both played at West Virginia.

"He's made a lot of mistakes in his career, but he's a guy who is still standing strong and still working hard. He's using his past trials and tribulations to try and help us."

Because Jones is still an active player and Clarett's story is well documented, their messages resonated with the young players.

"Growing up, those were the role models of their era," Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "Great players, tremendous players. Just to see where they're at it in life now and the things they've been through, it opened our eyes because we're no different from nobody else.

"For me, I always try to surround myself with positive people. I don't do nothing negative, man. I can make the best decisions for me and my family and my team as well. What stuck out to me was just some of the decisions that they made, clearly it was caused by them just not thinking about it before they made it."

Clarett urged the players to stay straight. His promising pro career was derailed by legal troubles not long after he helped lead the Buckeyes to their first national title in 34 years.

Clarett wound up serving 3-1⁄2 years in prison.

"His story was really deep," said Tennessee guard Chance Warmack while taking a break from teaching area school kids some football basics on the Browns' practice fields.

"He and Pacman reminded us there are obstacles you have to deal with as a professional and the standards you've got to hold yourself to because we're not like everybody else."

Chris Herren had a more harrowing tale.

The former NBA player was invited by the league to talk about how substance abuse nearly cost him his life. Now sober for five years, Herren had his audience riveted with firsthand accounts of his perilous road before recovery.

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