Jones opens up to NFL rookie class

The NFL executive overseeing the league’s Rookie Symposium knows there were critics who questioned why he would have Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones still speak at the event following his latest arrest.

Troy Vincent was unaffected.

Vincent easily could have pulled the plug on Jones addressing the league’s 254-member draft class about the potential off-field pitfalls that pro athletes should avoid. But while some believe the NFL did the wrong thing by having a controversial figure warn his peers about getting into trouble when he is again charged with doing just that, Vincent said standing behind Jones sends a far more powerful and positive message.

“We didn’t blink because it’s still under investigation,” said Vincent, referring to Jones’ arrest June 10 for misdemeanor assault in Cincinnati. “We’re not talking about something that’s tragic. If it was, it’s a different ball game. But this young man and me and our office have been in communication with counseling for years.

“He has an episode and now we remove him from the agenda? What does that say to my active population (of players)?”

Jones turned himself into police for allegedly punching a 34-year-old woman June 5 after an altercation following a Cincinnati Reds game he had attended. Jones has repeatedly claimed he was provoked and that she struck him in the face with a beer bottle after he refused to take a photograph with her outside a nearby bar.

Speaking with co-host Jim Miller and me Thursday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Jones described the incident as “one hiccup.”

“Me being confronted or touched with a particular object, that’s an area I have to work on,” Jones said. “If it had been anything else, I probably would have walked away. But when I’m being physically touched …

“Nothing happens overnight. I’ve made a lot of changes. I don’t go out to the places I used to. I don’t hang with the people I used to hang with. The only thing I can control is what I’m doing in the community. Being a great father at home. My fiancée is very happy. I’m good with my teammates. I’m not out getting drunk all through the night. I’m not out at 3 or 4 in the morning. If you recall, the incident happened at 10:15. I didn’t have a drink. The young lady that was in the party was drinking.”

Depending on how the case is resolved, Jones could be facing discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell under the league’s personal conduct policy. Vincent said he expects that Jones will personally have to meet with Goodell about the incident.

Goodell already suspended Jones for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 campaign following multiple off-field incidents. One of them was his connection to a Las Vegas strip club shooting that left bouncer Tom Urbanski paralyzed. A $13 million civil judgment was awarded to Urbanski and his wife that Jones is appealing.

Jones, 29, has since worked to reinvent himself and is entering his fourth season with the Bengals. After telling his cautionary tale to AFC rookies earlier this week, Jones did the same Thursday night with the NFC’s 2013 crop of draft picks.

“We talked about it and he admitted it in his (speech). He struggles with resolving conflict,” said Vincent, who is the NFL’s senior vice president of player engagement. “His reactions are so spontaneous he doesn’t even think about what the long-term outcomes are. We have to work on that every single day.

“It’s like reps on the field. We’ve got to practice, practice, practice patience and how to resolve conflict without physical harm. It’s like an addiction.”

Jones understands why people who don’t know him personally are skeptical about whether he has truly changed, especially after his most recent off-field incident.

“It seems like every time you’re trying to do so good if you have a speed bump it’s, ‘Oh, let’s bring up the past,’” Jones said. “For me, when I hit a speed bump, I look back at my past and evaluate everything. Am I doing the same thing that I used to do or what got me back on this path of righteousness of being a good father and husband? Do I take accountability for this or that?

“It really is an emotional roller-coaster if you don’t have some kind of grounding with God or your family and if you don’t know who you are as an inner person.”

Jones spoke at the symposium Thursday night alongside Maurice Clarett, a former star running back at Ohio State whose NFL career was derailed by substance abuse and an arrest for armed robbery that led to a 3½-year prison sentence. Jones said he and Clarett addressed issues like saving money and dealing with friends and family members who may not have a player’s best interest at heart.

Jones said on SiriusXM that he largely avoids returning to his hometown of Atlanta because many of the negative influences that once surrounded him are still there.

“It’s not that I can’t handle it. But the crowd I used to hang with, they’re still doing the same things and don’t have anything to lose,” Jones said. “When I was hanging with them and doing the things they were doing, there was nobody there to tell me, ‘No, Pac. You shouldn’t go in the strip club tonight. No, Pac. It isn’t cool that you want to fight that dude.’ With time, you grow.”

Jones also admitted that he only deals with “half” his family members since making major lifestyle changes.

“The other half think I’ve changed or that I think I’m too good (for them),” Jones said. “It’s to the point now where they’re still doing the same things.

“Everybody when I’m in Atlanta wants to come to my house to get in the pool and drink liquor. I’m not with that. The last time I went home there was no liquor at my house. If you are coming over here, don’t bring liquor – period. But people have to live and learn and want to do better. I’m a true believer in that.”

Just like when he spoke at last year’s symposium, Jones’ speech resonated with NFL rookies.

“This is a guy who grew up fast,” said San Diego linebacker Manti Te’o, who himself is no stranger to off-field controversy. “The biggest thing I got out of it was he would correct people who called him ‘Pacman’ and say, ‘My name is Adam.’ Everybody knows him as Pacman Jones. I didn’t even know his first name was Adam. It goes to show how far he’s come and how much he’s matured.”

Said Cincinnati Bengals tight end and new Jones teammate Tyler Eifert: “The main thing I remember him saying was he lost respect for the game when going through those (rough) times. Now, he’s got that back. He had to step back and remind himself how much he loves playing. He said being suspended was the worst thing – not the fines or whatever but just sitting out and not being able to compete.

“I think sometimes we take it for granted … He wanted us just to know we’re in a pretty good position here.”

The next step for Jones: Trying to stay in a good position personally and professionally without generating any more negative headlines.

“We’ve got to work at it,” Vincent said. “We’re not giving up on him. We believe in him.”