NFL Rookies Enter Fishbowl Existence

The NFL Rookie Symposium was held in San Diego last week. Representatives from the league office and the NFL Players Association educated every single player that was drafted this year on life in the National Football League. Every player must be in attendance as the program is mandatory or the non-participant is subject to a hefty fine.

Players have missed the program before, just ask Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins. Mr. Taylor missed the mandatory program although he could have benefited from the sound advice given. Over the course of two years, he has been arrested for a DWI (which was later dropped), a felony count of aggravated assault with a firearm, and one misdemeanor count of simple battery (which he settled for a lesser charge involving a punishment of community service). You see, Sean Taylor got real lucky as the prime of his career could have been spent behind bars.

Staying behind bars isn't the only way to potentially end a career — it could result by essentially flipping over them. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to ever lead his team to a Super Bowl trophy, faced more than just a potential career ending motorcycle accident three weeks ago. The man could have died. You better believe riding motorcycles and other dangerous activities were discussed at some point this week. Helmet or no helmet, riding a motorcycle substantially increases the likelihood of a player being injured.

Some players are not nearly as lucky as Big Ben and Sean Taylor. This decade-old program for NFL rookies plays a vital role in preparing these young men for the challenges they will face as their professional career just begins to take off. They will be presented with many temptations on and off the field.

Former USC linebacker Lofa Tatupu, now of the Seattle Seahawks, was there this week to offer his experience after just completing his rookie season. Tatupu joked how "your family suddenly gets a lot bigger when you're in the NFL," pointing to the growing number of people asking him for financial help. These players will be enticed by the many individuals that want a "piece of the pie" on that big contract they just signed.

Most players experience a lottery-like feeling, going from broke to rich in a matter of days. They have friends, family, financial advisors, agents, and corporate organizations that are all looking to profit from their new-found fame and fortune. The symposium prepares these guys on how to handle potential bad advice they may be receiving.

For example, the players know not to hand over power of attorney to their agents. The program itself started off with a series of skits simulating life as rookie in the NFL and included questions such as, "Have you been asked for money since joining the league?"

Considering that the average NFL career is around three years, the money can be very misleading. In order to make the player's pension plan requirements, they must play four years in the league. But even that is money that will have to last them from their mid-20s/early-30s. Most often, it is not nearly enough to support themselves and a family.

In comes the NFL Rookie Symposium. In addition to the league and players association, many others involved with the NFL are present throughout the week. The itinerary for the four-day gathering, which wrapped up last Wednesday, focused on financial education, but even included topics that weren't necessarily designed to protect their pocket books. The seminar also included a HIV/STD overview, and a substance-abuse dialogue.

The variety of information received is beneficial, especially when some of it is coming from future Hall of Fame veterans. New York Jets running back Curtis Martin and Cleveland Browns defensive end Willie McGinest (a three-time Super bowl champion) are two voices the rookies certainly took seriously. Both men lectured to the rookies about the decisions they make and the consequences that will inevitably follow. Curtis Martin, who ranks fourth in the history of the NFL for rushing yards, summed up his message in one profound statement. He told the rookies "Don't sacrifice what you wish for most for what you wish for right now."

On an interesting note, the league that does not have one openly-gay player brought in Esera Tuaolo, a former Green Bay Packer, who after retiring, made public that he is a homosexual. He has a book discussing the anxiety he faced as a player in the closet. A clear statement brought to the rookie class that the league is open to all players based on talent and character alone. Having Mr. Tuaolo speak at the symposium was a great move by the league as there are bound to be other men that face the same hardships that Tuaolo once did.

Players that should have paid attention more than anyone else this week:

Receiver Santonio Holmes has been arrested twice in two months since the Steelers traded up in the first round to take him.

Bengal Frostee Rucker was recently charged with spousal battery and vandalism.

Jaguar Maurice Drew just had assault charges against him dropped.

Bottom line, fellas, with 24-hour NFL network coverage, the Internet, and local/national media coverage, your lives are like living in a fish in a bowl the size of a Dixie cup.

Enjoy your time under water, even if it's just for the next three years. Because in the Fishbowl, we are all watching and waiting to see who will sink and who will swim.

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