NFL enjoys perfect attendance at symposium for third straight year

Updated: June 28, 2007, 1:44 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Reflecting the serious nature of the exercise, and the additional importance the event has taken on because of the more stringent player conduct policy, the NFL's 11th annual rookie symposium featured 100 percent attendance for a third straight year.

League officials confirmed that all 255 prospects from the 2007 draft were on hand this week for the symposium, which was held in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and concluded on Wednesday. Attendance at the symposium is mandatory but there have been a few absences in the past, and the NFL has levied sanctions against rookies who were no-shows or who left the event early without an excuse.

Not since 2004, however, has a rookie been fined. That year, safety Sean Taylor, the first-round choice of the Washington Redskins, was docked $25,000 for an early departure.

"I don't know that everybody was sitting up [ramrod] straight for every session, but I do know that guys paid pretty close attention," said Oakland Raiders' quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the top overall choice in this year's draft. "I mean, this is business now, this is about your livelihood. It's like the message was, 'OK, [it's] time to be a man.' Maybe sometimes, it was a little heavy-handed, but the message got through."

What is considered one of the best initiatives the NFL has ever undertaken in partnership with the NFLPA is essentially an orientation program to indoctrinate the league's newcomers to life in the NFL and all that entails. As usual, this year's program included 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.

I don't know that everybody was sitting up [ramrod] straight for every session, but I do know that guys paid pretty close attention. I mean, this is business now, this is about your livelihood. It's like the message was, 'OK, [it's] time to be a man.' Maybe sometimes, it was a little heavy-handed, but the message got through.

JaMarcus Russell

It once again featured speakers from the NFL office, the NFLPA, and from professionals in areas outside the game. But perhaps even more so than in past years, and with a nod toward the offseason suspensions of three veterans by commissioner Roger Goodell, there clearly was an emphasis on personal conduct.

"There is no question," Cincinnati first-round cornerback Leon Hall said, "that this is a commissioner who means business."

One of the highlights of the symposium, apparently, was an exchange between Goodell and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Troy Smith of Ohio State. The Heisman Trophy winner and a fifth-round pick in the draft, Smith, who overcame some off-field difficulties during his career with the Buckeyes to become a team leader and a Heisman Trophy winner, suggested that the league sometimes focused too much on negative situations involving players.

Representatives for Smith said that his remarks were not scripted or rehearsed, but that he wanted to stress to Goodell and others that there were success stories that needed to also be emphasized by league officials.

"I think that kind of [dialogue] is always good," said former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. "There was a lot of give-and-take, and a lot of good information that will serve us well."

The symposium marks the 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 its captive audience.

But this year, the symposium served as a starting point for the assimilation of the NFL's rookie class. One of the key directives of the new player conduct policy is that each franchise must continue the orientation of rookies with 10 to 12 hours of similar life-skills presentations before the start of training camp next month. Attendance is also mandatory for those sessions.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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