It is not an easy road, as you can imagine. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention playing time, injury history, surgeries and a lot of production over several years of consistent performance. How many of these rookies will ultimately make it through draft frustration or rejection. Which of them will be fortunate enough to make it in the Pro Football Hall of Fame once their careers are completed?
For the 2013 NFL draft class, the first step starts now. Yesterday in Aurora, Ohio, these first-year players began to receive an educational, eye-opening tour that won’t stop whirling until later in the week in Canton. In that town, of course, only the greatest NFL players are given a yellow jacket and a bust for their careers and accomplishments on the field. Yes, there are a few legends with checkered pasts (post-induction), but the lesson to be learned from taking the trek through these hallowed halls is unmistakable: Handle your business. Do the right thing. Avoid the bumps in the road. Stay on the straight and narrow. Be a professional on and off the field, and maybe you’ll finish with statistics so great that you’ll belong here one day.
The NFL’s goal when sending these young rookies to the yearly symposium is for them to grasp the league’s legacy and tradition, along with instilling traits of high character and leadership that are needed to become professionals. A challenge for all will be the social aspect, managing their funds and careers while staying mindful of the dark side of people that will come at them from every angle. This year marks the 16th edition of the four-day event. Rookies will be split up by NFC and AFC conferences and participate in waves (June 23-26 for AFC rookies, June 26-29 for NFC rookies).
“We believe in our peer-to-peer model that the more information these young men have on how those before them handled success, the better prepared they will be to meet expectations on and off the field,” said NFL Senior Vice President of Player Engagement Troy Vincent, who was a five-time Pro Bowl selection in his 15-year NFL career. “Through our speakers there is a story to be told, a lesson to be learned, a teachable moment, a message of success in conveying our number one objective which is to provide our rookies the tools to succeed during their NFL playing experience and beyond.”
According to the NFL, four core principles will be stressed at the rookie symposium: league history, total wellness, experience and professionalism. Players will be encouraged to take notes during presentations and sit up and pay attention during videos and workshops (subjects include player health and safety, decision-making, mental health, substance abuse, non-discrimination and maintaining positive relationships).
The NFL will use both current and former players who can tell the incoming class what’s ahead of them, what there issues were and where they may have fallen short. Participants: La Var Arrington (retired player), Vernon Davis (San Francisco), Brian Dawkins (retired player), Luther Elliss (retired player), Antonio Freeman (retired player), Mike Haynes (retired player), Desmond Howard (retired player), Terry Johnson (retired player), Adam Jones (Cincinnati), Dhani Jones (retired player), Patrick Kerney (retired player), Chad Pennington (retired player), Delanie Walker (Tennessee) and Aeneas Williams (retired player).
The Pro Football Hall of Fame tour on Saturday caps the event. For rookies and select credentialed media only, it is an NFL history lesson to be conducted by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and defensive end Richard Dent. Both of these gridiron greats are assigned to educate these young players on the respect the game deserves and how they should conduct themselves as professionals.
The best inside stories and enlightening testimonials may not come from panel discussions. Letting the rookies know that the NFL shield stands for team accomplishments, though, is crucial. No individual who wears a club logo on his helmet is bigger than the game or what the shield stands for.
Obviously, one of the greatest lessons for these rookies is currently playing out in Massachusetts. The made-for-cable miniseries-esque, reality TV-style murder investigation implicating New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez represents the very definition of taking care of one’s business away from the field. Who takes note this week in Ohio? Or, on a more sobering scale, who isn’t long for carrying the shield and everything it signifies?
NFL Communications data contributed to this blog.