The NFL has made the wise move to change up their rookie symposium format. In years past, it was more like a field trip, each group of drafted rookies traveling to another location and sitting in huge auditoriums to listen to speakers. It wasn’t particularity effective, a message too easy to tune out, and speakers earned public criticism for their comments. Most notably Cris Carter’s “Have A Fall Guy,” uh, plan?
Starting this season, each team would get to conduct their own symposium, held in their city, and also including the undrafted class. Steelers.com covered the two day event and has a great video up on their website.
Player engagement coordinator Terry Cousins helped lead the session. Mike Tomlin spoke to its value.
“This is something we’ve been fighting for for a long time,” he told Steelers.com. “Having an opportunity to take this transition program locally to focus on the guys we specifically work with.”
No longer does the event feel so robotic and impersonal. The room is smaller, the people more recognizable, the environment giving off a completely different, more engaging, tone.
Several people spoke to this years class. Art Rooney kicked things off followed up with messages from Cousins and Tomlin.
“You guys are transitioning from amateurs to professionals,” Tomlin told his group. “But also acknowledge that in many cases you guys are transitioning from being younger men to grown men.”
Tomlin was specifically happy with the ability to include the undrafted players, a pool who were not allowed to go to the previous, national event. They are, obviously, people too, who are earning even less and struggling with the same problems any other rookie would have. It’s unfortunate it took the league this long to realize that but finally, they’ve made the proper change.
As Dave Bryan noted last week, Ike Taylor and Mel Blount were brought in to guest speak. This offers a better source of familiarity with the players, and the speakers, being able to relate to each other and the environment they played in. And the duo brought an important message.
“I’m giving you this background so you can get a perspective and start to understand what kind of organization, what kind of city you’re in,” Blount said in the video. “And that history will let you know how you need to go forward and how you need to handle yourself and what’s expected of you. ”
It wasn’t all just speeches though. Cousins helped organize a trip to PNC Park, letting the rookies bond while taking in a ball game.
While the majority of players in the league are upstanding citizens – Pittsburgh has a couple great guys themselves (Arthur Moats, Antonio Brown) – there has been increasing negative stories and reputation. Domestic violence is on the rise, drug and steroid addictions are commonplace, and general immaturity for young players making an unimaginable amount of money in an instant.
Being able to take this transition to the local level personalizes it and creates a bigger and longer connection. Rather than sitting in the back row of the class – basically a do-over of college – there’s the ability to work one-on-one. And that can only help these players as they make the jump into the league.