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Sunday, June 25, 2006
Tenth rookie symposium begins near San Diego

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Struggling to come to grips with a new defense and a new position, along with his new financial status, DeMarcus Ware wondered this time a year ago how he could ever afford to carve out a four-day hiatus from football matters to attend the NFL's rookie symposium.

A year later, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker, a first-round draft choice in 2005 and one of the top rookie defenders in the NFL last season, knows the symposium was time well spent.

"For a lot of guys, you've suddenly got more responsibilities than you've ever had before, money, a lot more outside factors coming at you," Ware said last week. "It's kind of like, 'OK, so welcome to the real world.' And the symposium is really great at getting you to focus on real-world issues. You might go into it thinking, 'What can they really tell me that will do me any good?' But you don't come out that way."

This year's symposium, which opened on Sunday near San Diego and runs through Wednesday, marks the 10th anniversary of what many players, albeit some of them in hindsight, regard as one of the best off-field initiatives the league has ever created. The four-day orientation, with its typically ambitious schedule, is aimed at indoctrinating the 255 players selected in the 2006 draft to life in the NFL and all it entails.

The program, fine-tuned over its 10 years, includes sessions on developing life skills, personal finances, football operations, the league's substance abuse program, career planning, and general circumstances that might confront a young player. It will once again feature speakers from the NFL office, the NFL Players Association, and from professionals in areas outside the game.

As has been the case in the past, current and former players will address the rookies about their experiences in dealing with the pressures inherent to their profession.

For the second year in a row, players will attend workshops that include an interactive component, where they will receive instant feedback on their answers to questions about the particular theme of a session. The topics will range from things like monitoring investments, what to expect in your first training camp and how to prepare for life after the game.

It marks the one and only time the league gets an opportunity to address its entire draft class in the same setting, and the NFL works hard, acknowledged league vice president of player development Mike Haynes, to deliver counsel and direction to a captive audience.

A captive audience because attendance, by league decree, is mandatory.

So serious is the NFL about the importance of the rookie symposium that it has levied stiff fines in the past against players who failed to attend or who skipped sessions. Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was fined $25,000 in 2004 for departing the symposium early and without a valid excuse.

"I think that the natural reaction is to question why you're even there," said second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, a Redskins first-round choice in 2005. "But then they start talking about some of the stuff and you find yourself sitting up straight in your chair and listening. They definitely get your attention."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.