PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Sitting in comfortable leather desk chairs in a hotel ballroom, the 2007 class of NFL rookies listened to one message after another about what not to do, what situations to avoid or what bogeyman was hiding behind the next corner waiting to sabotage someone's career.
Finally, as commissioner Roger Goodell stood on the stage Monday morning after talking to the players for about 10 minutes, Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Jordan Palmer asked an innocent yet telling question: "What exactly can we do?"
The simple answer: Think. But in the complex world of the NFL, where instant money meets youth in an environment that mixes sports and corporate life, asking people to think isn't always easy.
"This is about the decisions they are going to have to make and this is a big transition from college," Goodell said Monday, the same day the Chicago Bears released troubled defensive tackle Tank Johnson. "I think we're providing some tools for them, but the big focus for us is how do we expand this? How do we make it better? We want to continually promote these messages and help the players make good choices.
"I'd be naïve to think that everyone is going to understand this and that we're not going to have any discipline matters going forward. But again, I think we are making the players more aware of the standards of behavior and, secondly, we're giving them more tools and resources to make better decisions. Hopefully that's going to have a great impact."
Statements, questions and other forms of the spoken word are fine and good, but the reality is that Goodell's actions over the past three months have spoken much louder. Goodell has handed out three suspensions, including a full season for Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and eight games each for Johnson and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry.
Clearly, those actions have gotten the attention of the players.
"The man means business," said New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, a former University of Miami standout who was involved in a shooting before his final season and in a brawl during the campaign. "If you get in trouble now it's because you don't care."
Harold Henderson, the NFL's vice president for player development, prefaced a two-hour session devoted specifically to player conduct issues by saying, "You have to pay attention because this will affect you like it has never affected any class before."
Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel provided his perspective, touching on numerous issues from dealing with fans to the media to family to women.
"If you have a wife, you don't need a girlfriend," Crennel said, bringing some laughs from the audience. "If you have a girlfriend, one is enough."
The problem, as always, is that the group of approximately 300 players is loaded with the young, virile and fearless. These are young men right out of college ready to take on the world.
They're also getting an increasing taste of the potentially expansive and lucrative NFL life. The rookie symposium is being held at the PGA National Resort, the site of numerous golf tournaments and an obvious enclave for the rich.
On Sunday night, many players sat around the lobby of the PGA National Resort showing off pictures of their new trucks, already accessorized with new rims. They listened to guys like Reggie Bush and Vince Young, both only a few months removed from their rookie seasons, talk about saving money.
Nice talk, but both Bush and Young sat on stage in sweet clothes and diamond-encrusted jewelry. The irony of the moment wasn't lost on many players.
Neither was the message made obvious when a couple of veteran players were outside the hotel lobby. It was 10:30 p.m. Sunday as they jumped into a SUV to take them to South Beach.
"We try to talk to the players about the consequences of their actions and you hope it gets through," said Jerod Cherry, a former second-round pick with New England who quit playing two years ago. "You tell them, 'Is it worth going out to the club if you're going to be tired the next day at practice?'
"At the same time, guys do have to have a life. You just hope you tell them that if they're going to go out, they stay out of a dangerous part of town. If a place is somewhere that there's a lot of crime, stay out of there, even if that's where the women are."
Perhaps some of that will sink in over time. From Goodell's perspective it's already having an impact with another crucial group in the process.
"The reaction I'm getting from fans is very positive, that we are standing up and making sure people are held to a higher standard," Goodell said. "People invest a lot of time, energy and money in the National Football League as fans and I want them to feel good about what they are doing."
- Roger Goodell