PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The NFL Rookie Symposium finished a little while ago and closed with a relative bang –- except for my appearance as a panelist in a session about dealing with the media.
Sex education expert Sandra “Ms. Mac” McDonald stirred the pot during her opening session by telling stories, stating facts and showing pictures about some of the unfortunate things that can happen if players aren’t careful or don’t use protection. She kept it real, to put it mildly, but had everyone’s attention. Her candid, spirited presentation was one of the most animated sessions of the past 3½ days.
Without getting into too much detail, the session drew some of the more eyebrow-raising questions that you can imagine about sex education. Hardcore is putting it mildly.
Titans LB David Thornton, NFL director of media relations and international communications Michael Signora and I knew it would be impossible to follow up Ms. Mac. Still, we tried our best, with Thornton telling the rookies that it’s beneficial to establish a good relationship with the media from the start.
Of course, I agreed, but as someone who has done these seminars before with athletes, I also let them know why. We are the messengers to the ticket/merchandise-buying public, and if people show some sense of human decency, it helps us portray a fair image of the person. If athletes are rude and boorish, they’ll be portrayed that way, etc …
I also let them know that they have to deal with the good and the bad, and that it’s in their best interest to make themselves available in both scenarios. Athletes who give interviews after winning games but hide after losses typically aren’t well-received by the media or the public. The questions are going to be asked regardless.
The final speaker at the symposium was former NFL wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter — and he brought the noise. One player made the mistake of dozing off while Carter was speaking, and the player was awakened by a scolding he won’t forget. Carter pointed out to the audience — but also to the player — that if you don’t want to listen to people who know more than you and who can help you navigate through what lies ahead, then odds are you won’t be in the league for long because someone who does want to learn will take your job.
On that note, Carter warned the rookies that the veteran players they will try to replace are competing for mortgages, car notes and their families. So when training camp arrives, the rookies will face competition like they’ve never experienced. But Carter praised the rookies for being a talented group and told them it’s their job to take someone’s job -– just as it will be for next year’s rookie to take their jobs.
It was great, great stuff.
The rookies were hit with a lot of stuff, and retaining all of it will be hard to do. But most of these guys will get it. Most of them know the difference between right and wrong and life’s Golden Rule. But some guys will think they’re above it all and end up in the headlines for the wrong reasons at some point — and perhaps suspended or out of the league.
All I can say is that none of these guys will have anyone to blame but themselves. With everything they’ve been afforded and all the resources at their disposal, there are no excuses.
– Steve Wyche