Chicago Bears safety Brock Vereen, a fourth-round draft pick in May, recently attended the NFL Rookie Symposium in Ohio with the rest of the league's first-year players. Here is his account of what he learned at the enlightening event
By Brock Vereen
Begin with the end in mind.
2014 Hall of Fame inductee Aeneas Williams repeated this message as he wrapped up the first session of the NFL Rookie Symposium for the NFC teams. After three long days of presentations, meetings and panels, we heard the most important lesson of all. But all of the events that got us to that final moment made up an informative and influential couple of days for those of us who took advantage.
I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the symposium. Despite having an older brother who attended three years ago, as well as other friends and teammates who have been there, everyone said it was something you have to experience firsthand to truly understand.
What I heard most often about the symposium is that sitting in on countless meetings and presentation after presentation is a grueling process. I can say that it fully lived up to these expectations, and at times even exceeded them. But the difference between the symposium and some boring college lecture was knowing the information and insight was increasing the possibility of having a long and healthy career.
Having an older brother who has been in the NFL for some time has given me a unique perspective on how the league functions. One of the things that my brother and I previously discussed, which was reaffirmed by other current and former NFL players at the symposium, is what everyone refers to as the "rookie wall."
What a lot of people do not realize is that rookies endure a constant physical and mental grind for more than a year. Training camp for their final college season begins in August, bowl games wrap up in December and January, training for the combine begins immediately after that, and after the draft they are thrown right into OTAs, followed by training camp and then another 20-plus week season. The players that spoke to us admitted to feeling drained at some stage. Their advice: Draw motivation from the fact you’re living out your lifelong dream.
The best part about the group of guys that the NFL placed before us was that their discussions went far beyond what takes place on the football field. Patrick Kerney’s financial presentation went into detail about the money we are making, where it will go, and how to avoid being deceived by outsiders who want a piece of it. Eddie George, Jordan Palmer and others discussed entrepreneurship and how an NFL salary does not have to be your only source of income. Perhaps the most emotional of all of the discussions was Brian Banks, who was strong enough to tell us his story of how to remain positive and keep faith even through a trial filled with deception and lies.
The breakout sessions were definitely the area where the most progress was happening. We were paired up with the Arizona Cardinals, and together we were able to discuss the issues from the big group meetings in much more detail and from a more personal standpoint.
One of the most intense moments from the breakout sessions was the discussion of money and how it can potentially change family members and friends who may feel they are entitled to it. Players talked about about how they felt pressure to help out those who are close to them, as well as the frustration that people do not fully realize that being in the NFL does not automatically make you a millionaire from day one. We discussed how to deal with these family members and friends who will come knocking, and how to determine who deserves assistance and who doesn't. It was a strange feeling at first, bonding with players from another team, but in the end I was able to walk away with a few more friends and much more confidence about what to expect during my rookie season.
Each presenter and speaker seemed to have his own unique style. Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Warren Sapp were able to find a perfect combination of humor and harsh reality in their open panel Q&A. Ricky Williams and Deion Branch kept a calm, cool and collected demeanor throughout, and then former NBA player Chris Herren used a style that was raw and rugged and left no stone unturned as he took us through a haunting tale about his fall from the top to the absolute bottom.
What all of these speakers had in common was an ability to reach us and capture our attention. Whether it was through fear, stating the statistics that most of the rookies in that room will be out of the league in three years, or through motivation, that we deserved to be sitting in those chairs, every one of them provided the opportunity to learn something that could immediately be applied.
And yet, during a panel discussion, Jordan Palmer called out the people who were sleeping in their chairs. It was a simple reminder that the players on the panel did not have to be there. They were taking time out of their week to come help us, and that should be appreciated. The unfortunate reality, as was covered by some of the speakers, is that even after the symposium and all of the tales of DUIs, arrests, and other setbacks and mishaps, it is more than likely that some of us rookies will make the mistakes that those before us are trying to help us avoid.
It’s unrealistic to expect all issues that arise with NFL players to suddenly come to an end. However, the NFL is providing us with both the information and the tools to prevent any of this from happening. At the end of the day we are grown men, and now that we have the necessary advice it is our choice as to what we do with it.
One of the great things that the symposium brought out of all the rookies was that everyone was able to be themselves. There was never any feeling of self-entitlement from anyone. Whether you were a first-rounder or a seventh-rounder, it seemed to be widely understood that none of that mattered now. We were all just rookies with something to prove.
For me, the most exciting part was the final morning when we visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There was no better way to wrap up 72 hours of hearing how to be successful in the NFL than to pay homage to those who were more successful than anyone. Walking through all of the galleries, videos, and busts was all the motivation anyone would need rolling into their first NFL training camp.
The Hall of Fame tour concluded with Aeneas Williams speaking to us about how, even though it may have been our lifelong dream to become an NFL player, knowing what path we want to take once our time is up is just as important. Sometimes it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that we are not going to play this game forever. As he finished up chanting Begin with the end in mind! and as we all loaded up the buses and headed to the airport, it was never more clear that the NFL will provide more opportunities than any of us rookies could have ever imagined. To call ourselves NFL players was the highest privilege anyone could ever receive.