One of the most misleading titles in all of sports is the term “rookie.” It is used to denote first-year players in need of experience and a chance to prove themselves to their coaches, teammates, and fans.
This might be a more accurate term: “college kids making more money than they have ever seen before.”
College athletes have never been known for their decision-making skills off the field. For every Tim Tebow who would never dream of participating in back-alley activities, there is also a Terrelle Pryor who willingly cashes in on autographed memorabilia. When the NFL gives these players multimillion-dollar contracts, some see it as a method to finance a lifestyle ripe with trouble.
This is where the NFL’s annual rookie symposium steps in to give young players some perspective about what is expected of them as professionals. Everything from handling money, the league’s conduct policy, substance abuse and dealing with the media are covered to insure that the rookies know everything they need to adjust to the pros.
Unfortunately for this year’s draft class, the rookie symposium was cancelled due to the NFL lockout. The symposium slated to start June 26, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“The symposium is a large, complex event involving many professionals and others. In fairness, we could not continue to keep the commitment on hold,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said of the event.
Without the positive example set by the symposium, who will rookies look to for guidance? Hopefully they turn to the likes of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees for direction. But what if they model themselves off other big names such as Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, or Plaxico Burress – all in the process of trying to atone for transgressions? No one is expecting rookies to go out and abuse dogs, assault women, or wear sweatpants to a nightclub loose enough to push the trigger of a loaded gun. But popular athlete hangouts like strip clubs, bars, and casinos all have the potential to become crime scenes if something stupid occurs.
Agent Peter Schaeffer, who represents Cleveland Browns’ first-round pick Phil Taylor, thinks the symposium should be held despite the fact that teams and players are not allowed to have contact during a lockout.
“They’re not dealing with the team, it’s the league,” said Schaeffer. “And it’s not about football, it’s about life. The symposium is about how to make good decisions and avoid bad decisions.”
Luckily for the rookies, the NFL Player’s Association is currently planning what NFLPA spokesman George Atallah calls “The Business of Football Rookie Edition.”
Atallah says it will cover “financial planning and education, how to behave on and off the field and a variety of other information that rookies in the NFL need access to that will prepare them for what lies ahead.”
Hopefully the rookies take advantage of this opportunity to have as normal an adjustment period to NFL life as possible during a lockout. It is hard enough to be a rookie at anything without the necessary training, let alone a job that requires you to constantly be in the national spotlight.