Hernandez an example for rookies

The NFL Rookie Symposium features guest speakers who try to help young players avoid the pitfalls that derailed their own pro careers.

This year the most powerful message was delivered from almost 700 miles away.

Aaron Hernandez attended the same symposium in 2010 after being drafted by the New England Patriots. Clearly, he didn’t take what was preached to heart.

Hernandez was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with murder, along with five other gun-related charges, in the recent death of a 27-year-old semi-pro football player in North Attleboro, Mass. The Patriots released Hernandez from his seven-year, $41.2 million contract shortly after the arrest.

The Hernandez situation wasn’t the focus of a specific seminar at the symposium (AFC rookies attended Sunday through Wednesday; NFC rookies are slated for Wednesday through Saturday). But some of the same themes that appear pertinent to Hernandez’s situation were emphasized.

Among them: The potential consequences of hanging with the wrong crowd and taking the benefits that come with being in the NFL for granted when, as Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Luke Joeckel said, players should “take every single day like it’s a privilege.”

“What stood out to me was hearing all the guys saying, ‘That can’t happen to me,’ ” Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “Guys then started telling their stories, about family situations and how people started coming out of the woodwork and asking for things. It’s going to happen. You’ve just got to deal with it, decide who to surround yourself with and, most of all, save your money and make the best decisions.”

That sounds good in theory, but such advice doesn’t always get put into practice. Many of the 254 players selected in April’s draft aren’t prepared for all of the responsibilities — financial, personal and professional — that come with leaving the college ranks for the NFL.

“Everybody here I think is going to be challenged in a different way than they’ve ever been challenged before,” Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “You’re moving to a new city. You’re going to be trusting new people and surrounded by new people. There’s always new situations that come about. No matter how strong you are or what you’ve been through, there’s always new tests.”

Even some of the NFL’s best players have failed them.

Brian Dawkins shared his story with AFC rookies on Tuesday night. Dawkins was a 1996 second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles who didn’t enjoy the benefits of a rookie symposium because such a program didn’t exist then.

Although he would ultimately forge a 16-year NFL career that will bring him Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration, Dawkins said he almost didn’t survive his first season. Dawkins not only pressured himself to excel on the field but admittedly didn’t know how to handle his finances, especially when it came to declining the requests of family members. The situation was so rough that Dawkins said he took medication to treat depression until he got his personal matters in order following his rookie campaign.

The symposium places a heavy emphasis upon mental-health education and recognizing potential symptoms both personally and with teammates.

“This game comes with a lot of high expectations,” New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith said. “As football players, we’re bred to hold that (pressure) in and be warriors. Last year with all the suicides and all the tragic events that happened in the NFL, you can see how it can break a man down.

"That’s something (the NFL) has done a great job with, allowing us to open up to our teammates and be approachable — be humans. You can never take on too much.”

Lloyd was found shot to death near Hernandez’s home. The NFL broached the topic of weapons and off-field violence at the symposium during seminars featuring Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and retired defensive lineman Tank Johnson.

Jones was involved in a series of incidents that led to an NFL suspension. One of them was a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club that left a bouncer paralyzed. Although he wasn’t the shooter, Jones lost a $13 million judgment in a civil lawsuit. Jones is appealing the decision.

Johnson was part of a similar situation while with a friend who was murdered during a nightclub shooting. Johnson also was suspended by the NFL after multiple arrests on weapons charges. The Buffalo News reported that Johnson told rookies they shouldn’t own weapons as active players during his Monday presentation.

“There have been a lot of testimonies from people who have gone through the system,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of dos and don’ts.”

According to U-T San Diego’s NFL arrests database, 27 NFL players — plus Hernandez and Cleveland Browns rookie Ausar Walcott, charged with attempted murder stemming from a nightclub fight this past weekend — have been arrested since this year’s Super Bowl.

Like other undrafted rookies, Walcott, released Wednesday by the Browns, was not invited to the rookie symposium. The reason college free agents do not attend stems primarily from logistical concerns that too many attendees could make the symposium unwieldy as well as undrafted rookies being longshots to make an NFL roster. The league also believes that player programs held by individual teams before and after the symposium provide a sufficient primer for life in the NFL.

The NFL knows the symposium itself isn’t a cure-all for the off-field problems that some players can find themselves in. But if it can prevent another situation like the one Hernandez finds himself in, staging the event is well worth it for an image-conscious league.

“They’ve told is to remember it’s not all going to be pretty here in the NFL,’” Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert said. “One of the speakers told us we got a head start on the rest of our lives compared to (non-players) and not to blow that. Make the most of it and take advantage of it the best we can.”

Hernandez did neither.

Luke Joeckel, Jarvis Jones, Tyler Wilson, Geno Smith and Tyler Eifert were interviewed by Alex Marvez and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio.