Rookies Learning Important Lessons By Zac Jackson This report filed June 30, 2003
The seven members of the Cleveland Browns 2003 Draft Class are in West Palm Beach, FL, this week, but they won't find much time to soak up the sun and chill on the beach.
They're in town for the NFL Rookie Symposium, a four-day orientation for all drafted rookies that will detail for the NFL's newest stars some of the major off-the-field issues and possible roadblocks they'll encounter over the next few months and in the years to come.
Life skills covered at the Symposium include benefits, insurance, substance abuse, safe sex/lifestyle choices, domestic violence, gambling, dealing with the media, personal finance, associations, and family issues.
Accompanying the players on the trip are Browns Director of Player Programs Jerry Butler and Assistant Director Ray Jackson, who have been the rookies' "father figures" since they arrived for rookie minicamp at the beginning of May.
Butler is entering his third season in his current role after coaching with the Browns in 1999 and 2000. Jackson played in Cleveland from '99-'01 and in his first season in a front office role.
"The Rookie Symposium is all done in a span of about three days," Butler said. "And those are long days. Guys start out at 7 in the morning and stuff doesn't end until 10:30 at night. It's pretty intense."
The Symposium is part of the very important process in turning young, talented football players from Big Men on Campus to respected, responsible members of the community.
"There are a lot of highly paid kids who are compensated well for their talents, and they've got a lot to deal with," Butler said. "At the Symposium the people from the league essentially are saying, this is who we are and this is what we're about. It's a comprehensive overview of what life in the NFL is all about. They try to shorten the transition from college to the pros."
NFL Vice President of Player Development Michael Haynes and his staff run the Symposium and bring in league personnel, current and former players, and trained professionals in important fields to address the rookies. They'll be reinforcing the messages the Browns players have received over the last month or so in programs the Butler set up in dealing with issues like money management, etiquette, and team building.
"As an organization we prioritize things and try to lay those out there for the guys," Butler said. "What do they need to know? What kind of training do they need? When are they going to have to make tough decisions? We teach them about scams, how to protect themselves, security, making good quality decisions in life. We're preparing them to make good choices and good decisions and deal with consequences, hopefully positive consequences."
Butler said the Browns' commitment to success-on and off the field-starts at a very important place: the top.
"Coach Davis has a heart for this," he said. "He cares. And because of that, it's a great opportunity for me to do things I want to do to help these guys and this team. We get people involved and we're hoping to continue to introduce more and more things to the program."