Rookies try to avoid pitfalls
The Associated Press
BEREA — His gray T-shirt soaked with sweat, Justin Blackmon sat at a picnic table following lunch and waited to make a final catch for Brandon Weeden, his former Oklahoma State teammate now with the Browns.
The trigger man for one of college football’s most dynamic pass-and-catch combinations, Weeden made a handoff, sliding an ice cream sandwich in front of Blackmon, who leaned back and smiled.
On a muggy Friday morning, Blackmon, Weeden and other first-year AFC players participated in a youth football clinic as part of the NFL’s weeklong rookie symposium, a comprehensive orientation program to ease their transition into professional life.
The chance to run around with kids was a welcomed break for the players, who have spent the past few days inside conference rooms listening to former players like Terrell Owens and Adam Jones warn them about controlling their finances, guarding their privacy and not making mistakes in their personal lives.
For Blackmon, it’s more about not making another one.
Now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Blackmon was arrested earlier this month on a drunken driving charge in Stillwater, Okla. It was his second alcohol-related offense in three years and an early misstep he regrets and hopes to never repeat.
The first-round draft pick’s blood alcohol content was allegedly three times over the legal limit. He pleaded not guilty to a DUI misdemeanor and his next court date is July 24, three days before the Jaguars open training camp.
There’s nothing he can do about it now other than move forward and repair his tarnished image.
“I’m past it,” said Blackmon, who faces a possible suspension. “My team is behind me and that’s all that really matters to me.”
Blackmon’s criminal situation, and other legal matters involving young players, is one of the main reasons the league has been gathering its rookies for the past 15 summers to educate them on how a poor decision can adversely affect their careers. This week, the players have heard testimony from ex-players who have gone bankrupt, had marriages crumble and battled addictions.
They’ve been told there is an acceptable standard and they must rise to meet it. It’s been an eye-opener for many.
“What I’ve gotten out of it is to use the resources that the NFL has for you,” Blackmon said. “There are a lot of people out there that are there to help you get through the transition into the NFL, and just use them instead of just trying to do it yourself.”
Detroit defensive Nick Fairley is heeding that advice.
A first-round draft pick from Auburn in 2011, Fairley has been arrested twice in recent months for charges ranging from reckless driving to marijuana possession to driving under the influence and attempting to elude police in Alabama. On Thursday, Fairley pleaded not guilty to several charges through his attorney.
Fairley wasn’t in court because he was with this year’s rookie class at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora, Ohio — where the NFL hopes to keep the symposium because of its proximity to the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
Fairley asked to attend this year’s event after last year’s symposium was cancelled because of the labor lockout.
Fairley was not available for interviews.
For the 28-year-old Weeden, who played minor league baseball in the New York Yankees’ organization before pursuing his football career. the week has been a good refresher course in common sense and post-football planning.
Weeden said he and other rookies have been told this week that statistics show 78 percent of players will leave the game with no money. He’s already been through enough experiences that he could teach a seminar to his younger peers.
“I don’t think I would want that role,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’ve been smart with my money. I think I’ve been smart in all my decision making. I’ve heard a lot of the same stuff going back to my rookie year in baseball, which is 10 years ago. I’m still living on my baseball money, so I’ve done things right, which is good.
“I didn’t get a ton of money when I played baseball. Fortunately, I’ve got a wife who is really smart financially and frugal and she doesn’t go out and spent it for me. We’ve both got our heads on our shoulders and we want to be set for our kids and for the future.
“It may seem like we’re making a lot of money now, but it goes fast.”