By Ross Jones, FOXSports.com
Chris Herren’s message at the NFL Rookie Symposium was simple and startling. It was meant to be. “My opening line to them was, ‘Unfortunately, in the room right now there are more future drunks and drug addicts than there are multimillionaires,’” former NBA player Chris Herren told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. “’And you can choose not to listen. You can choose to say that’s not me, I’ll never be that guy, but I said the same thing when I sat in my rookie transition program in 1999.’” Herren was that guy and is fortunate to still be able to tell his story from a sober point of view. “I let them know that they have an amazing head start. It’s an amazing head start in life. The reality is NFL careers are not long, NBA careers are not long. It’s a great head start. And with this head start do the best you possibly can with it.”
Herren, who was speaking to the AFC rookies in Aurora, Ohio, earned a standing ovation and then was greeted by more than 50 players. Most wanted to say thank you, others wanted to share personal stories or family struggles. Following a decorated high school and college basketball career, Herren played in the NBA before an addiction to drugs derailed everything. “I try to emphasize to them that they have overcome the odds. Every kid in that room has beat the odds. Now the trick is to be a pro with themselves. If they can conquer that, then their future is bright and they can sustain it. But most don’t. That’s just the facts. Unfortunately, that’s the business.” The NFL hosts a wide array of people from all different avenues to speak to its incoming players. Herren, who talked with last year’s class, feels every potential danger, whether it be gambling, steroids, addiction or finances, are all intertwined. “You spend a lot of time alone. You’re in hotel rooms, a lot of traveling and a lot of time away from your family. You really have to be centered and like yourself to sustain that career without turning to other vices.” Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has dealt with problems with drugs in the past, has been adamant that he has ditched his former lifestyle and has embraced the opportunity that’s in front of him. Mathieu was booted off the LSU football team after a violation of team rules and spent last season in a rehabilitation facility before being drafted in the third round on this year’s NFL Draft. Herren believes that if Mathieu can surround himself with the right people, he can have a very bright future. “Unfortunately, the odds are against the better story. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be overcome. That doesn’t mean that he can’t be an amazing athlete who is blessed and gifted and make a career with this. But again it all has to do with what is put in front of him. It depends on who he associates himself with, who his mentors are.” Herren, a mentor himself now, wishes he could go back to 1999, his rookie year in the NBA, and take advantage of a program like the rookie symposium. “I would do just about anything to sit in that front row again.”
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