By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
June 28, 2013
It’s more a scheduling coincidence than a grand master plan that the NFL Rookie Symposium and the NBA Draft occur around the same time each year. But the pairing of the transitional events—especially in a year like this one in which the actions of a veteran pro athlete are grabbing global headlines—only stands to more strongly encapsulate the enormous challenge these young hopefuls face in reaching the Hall of Fame in their respective sports.
In the shift from amateur status to the pros, more athletes fail than succeed, physically, emotionally, and financially. The message from the NFL’s Cleveland confines to NBA Commissioner David Stern’s Barclays Center podium is clear—your support network is every bit as important as your hand-eye. Get good help, and mind who you hang with.
The NFL’s annual Rookie Symposium has possibly never come at a more critical time for the league and its brand. According to Elias Sports Bureau, 29 NFL players have been arrested since the Super Bowl, including the booking of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez earlier this week.
Now in its 15th year, the league’s rookie orientation is designed to educate players about transitioning from college to the pros based on the four principles of NFL History, Total Wellness, Experience and Professionalism. The symposium includes presentations, videos, and workshops focused on these principles as well as topics including player health and safety, decision making, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence prevention, non-discrimination, and maintaining positive relationships.
Symposium leaders, many of them former NFL pros, help players develop their own “professional game plans” by sharing secrets of success for staying in the league and having a prosperous career, culminating with a history lesson during a day at the NFL Hall of Fame in nearby Canton.
"It’s a great opportunity for us to be out here learning from players who’ve been here, been in our shoes and who are where we want to be," San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame star who this year was the target of an online fake girlfriend hoax, told the Associated Press. "Keep our circle small and remember the people who have always been there for you."
“You know, there’s this pink elephant in the room . . . the Hernandez situation,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s senior vice president of player engagement, told the Washington Post and the new crop of rookies Wednesday night. “It’s been public knowledge on every TV station the last two weeks. I just ask that you have wisdom. We’ll pray for his family, himself, that situation will take care of itself. But just be wise.”
Hernandez may be this NFL rookie crop’s cautionary tale of 2013, but he is far from the first NFL player to be handcuffed and read his rights. Eight years after he attended the NFL Rookie Symposium "and didn’t listen to a thing," this year’s symposium brings Maurice Clarett home as a guest speaker. His is the story, Fox Sports Ohio notes, the league wants to help its new players avoid.
Cut before his NFL career got off the ground, the Ohio State standout’s downfall included problems with alcohol and an arrest near campus involving multiple firearms. Clarett pleaded guilty in 2006 to aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon and served over three years in prison.
Now 29, Clarett said he’s clean, happy, and anxious to share his story.
"Going to the symposium, I can identify with a lot of those guys. I don’t know if they know my story or not, but I know a lot of them grew up with nothing,” Clarett said. “I know they’re getting money for the first time and they have everybody they’ve ever known trying to get their hands on it.
"These guys…were college stars whose only responsibility was to show up to lift and practice. If anybody knows what it’s like to throw it all away, it’s me. And now to have a stage and a spotlight to reach somebody before he does something near as stupid as the things I did, it’s a privilege."
A-list Athletes in Financial Trouble:
- NFL’s Terrell Owens, $80 million in career earnings, facing an IRS lien
- MLB’s Curt Schilling, $115 million, lost his life savings in bad business deals
- NBA’s Allen Iverson, $154 million, currently being sued by creditors
- Boxer Evander Holyfield, $250 million, lost his $14 million home
Back in Brooklyn, every NBA first round draft pick who signs a contract will be scheduled to get at least $2.5 million over three year, while the top five draft picks get $10+ million over three years, according to the NBA”s collectively-bargained salary scale.
But studies suggest that in just a few short years, a large percentage of these players will have nothing left. In 2012, Sports Illustrated estimated that 60% of NBA players and 78% of NFL players declared bankruptcy within five years of retirement.
Top NBA prospect Trey Burke, who helped lead Michigan to the 2013 NCAA National Championship game and was drafted at number nine by Minnesota on Thursday night (a trade to Utah is in the works), signed with the Legacy Agency, but to maximize his income potential, he’s also working with Compass Management Group on his financial planning.
The Compass plan for its athlete clients tightly caps nonessential spending. “It’s all about sitting down and coming up with a lifestyle you can maintain forever,” Compass principal Danny Sillman, told Rick Horrow on Bloomberg “Sportfolio.”
Whether NFL or NBA, “elite athletes are coddled their whole lives. They are protected, and everything is laid out for them,” says Dr. Richard Chaifetz, founder of ComPsych Corporation and an expert on behavioral issues in the workplace. “They become adults real fast when they become professionals and they’re responsible for their own behavior for the first time in their lives. They are tempted by the money, the access, the experiences they’ve never had before. They’re living away from home on a permanent basis without that protection. It’s a very difficult adjustment.
“I think the NFL has learned over the years that how the athlete adjusts to the league is very important for how successful they’re going to be in their career,” Chaifetz adds. “A cultural match is the most important thing—the skills become secondary if they are not able to adjust appropriately.”
Regarding Hernandez and similar situations in which other pro athletes have found themselves, Chaifetz says, “We all know that people get in trouble when they hang around with the wrong people. So it’s very important that the NFL Rookie Symposium focuses on associating with the right people and anticipating trouble, staying away from it and not putting yourself in situations that only lead to bad things.”