Rookie T Kenyatta Walker learned at the NFL Rookie Symposium that the advice of league veterans can be useful off the field as well
The Rookie Symposium has ended and the league's 300 rookie draftees have scattered back to their homes and their respective NFL outposts. Tampa Bay's Kenyatta Walker, for instance, was already back in the Buccaneers' weight room on Friday morning, less than a day after the four-day program wrapped up in Leesburg, Virginia.
Now that the Symposium is over, you can color Walker happy to have been there and happy to be back. That's because, while recounting a list of positives about this innovative National Football League program, Walker did have one small complaint.
"I think it was very helpful," he said. "It had some real strong points, but it got a little redundant after Tuesday. It was a little too long for me."
And, on the spot, Walker thought of a solution, only partly in jest: give half of the program time to the National Basketball Association. "I'm not sure if the NBA has something like that," he said, "but with all those 18 and 19-year-olds coming into the league, they definitely should."
Walker voiced his objection with a laugh and stressed that he learned many lessons during the week. That's why he recommended the program for the ever-growing ranks of high schoolers-turned-pros in the NBA, young men who are bound to be confronted by the same issues as these suddenly high-profile NFL rookies.
"The things that really hit me were the women talking about AIDS and the players coming up to tell their personal stories," said Walker. "It was good to listen to some players that had been there. It showed that we do have help and that everybody's human.
"But I was hit especially by the AIDS talk – that was real."
Walker, 22 and the Bucs first-round draft choice last April, may be somewhat more worldly and experienced than the 18-year-olds jumping directly from high school into the NBA, but he recognizes that there are aspects of his new professional life for which he may not have been fully prepared. Like the rest of the rookies in attendance, Walker appreciated the effort made by league veterans to attend the symposium and give the newcomers the benefit of their experience.
"We're all grown men," said Walker, "but we are together in this sort of fraternity (that is the NFL)."
Among the veterans on hand to tell their stories was Walker's new Tampa Bay teammate, Warren Sapp, who shared tips on effective handling of the media. Other player-speakers and panelists included Denver's Mike Anderson, the Giants' Tiki Barber, Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, the Jets Mo Lewis and the recently retired Irving Fryar.
Fryar, who spent his 17th and final NFL season with Washington in 2000, battled drug and alcohol addition early in his stellar career. His speech made the most impact on Walker.
"Irving Fryar was real smooth," said the Bucs rookie. "I liked Irving and what he had to say."
As did the NFL, which invited Fryar as an example of both the perils of substance abuse and how to overcome it. NFL Insider report Vic Carucci was on hand for Fryar's speech as well, and he filed the following report for NFL.com.
Fryar warns rookies to avoid his mistakes
by Vic Carucci, NFL Insider for NFL.com
Irving Fryar is both the best and worst example that rookie NFL players can see of the evils of prolonged substance abuse.
He is the best example because of his willingness to discuss the topic and the candor with which he addresses it: from hitting rock bottom in a jail cell to reclaiming his roles as a husband and father that he nearly squandered forever.
Fryar is the worst example because his addiction to illegal drugs and alcohol did not cut short his career as a wide receiver. In fact, he played in the NFL for 17 years, only recently retiring after spending last season with the Washington Redskins. Fryar remains in good enough shape to keep playing, but he has decided instead to accept a position as an NFL analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated.
When Fryar took the stage at the NFL's Rookie Symposium Tuesday, he didn't do so as an athlete or an announcer. He did so as someone who has encountered both the very best and worst that life has to offer - and has lived to tell about it.
"I am very, very blessed," Fryar said in an animated 50-minute talk that was part sermon and part lecture. "And you know what? I wasted a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money."
Before any rookie concluded that Fryar's long NFL career is proof that he could make a few mistakes and still be successful, Fryar pointed out that he was a rare exception. He explained that players today don't get the number of chances he was given to bounce back, because there is much greater scrutiny of their behavior and stiffer consequences from the league, their teams, and the judicial system.
"I'm telling you, you don't have the same amount of chances that I did," Fryar said. "You see it all the time. There are people who have done way less than me, and they get busted. They're out of the league. They're dead."
Fryar remembered two such athletes who were nowhere near as fortunate he was after their experiences with drugs.
"You could be like a football player that I knew at UCLA named Don Rogers," Fryar said. "He came out the same year that I came out (from Nebraska, 1984). After he got drafted, Don decided he was going to do some coke, and after one year of playing in the pros, Donnie died. If that didn't happen, he would still be playing in the league.
"Anybody know about Len Bias? They say Len Bias tried coke for the first time (after being drafted by the Boston Celtics), and Len's dead. Len never played in the pros. Len would still be playing.
"You want to play Russian Roulette? There are more cases of those guys than there are of me. I know that I'm blessed. I've been given two or three or four or five chances.
"You don't want to take that chance, because you don't know (what will happen)."
Fryar recalled that his first encounter with narcotics came when he was 13. That was when he began smoking marijuana.
He said that he was the last of his childhood friends to do so. In fact, Fryar said he was so determined to avoid using the drug, he would roll "joints" filled with tea, because when it burned, it gave off the same smell as marijuana.
"But I wouldn't get high," he said, adding that he didn't try the real thing until after his uncle, whom he always tried to emulate, returned home from the Marines and gave him an actual joint.
"Thus," Fryar said, his voice dropping, "my adventure with marijuana … to cocaine … to freebasing … to alcohol. People say one doesn't lead to the other. Don't believe that. People say you can't get hooked on weed. Don't believe that.
"One does lead to the other. It did for me; it will for you. Don't try it and you'll never have to stop it. And, oh, by the way, it's against the law."