Rookies Need To Realize That Being In The Pros ‘Ain’t No Play Thang’

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 26, 2007

NFL SAN ANTONIO — If Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith didn’t like how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed him and his fellow rookie compadres, then maybe he should have found a new line of work that was less demanding.

Goodell is doing something that his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, would never do and that is “protect the shield”. Goodell knows that he is going to be the bad guy but that is not his concern.

Goodell said in a transcript following his talk with the rookies that “the whole focus is how do we make these men better men, and how do we make sure that they understand that the skills they learn here are life skills; things that will help them throughout their lives and well beyond their NFL career.”

Personal accountability is something that this league has lacked over the past several years and many former and current members of the league are glad that Goodell is taking this hard-ass stance.

“Roger is watching all 32 teams and how you conduct your business,” Chargers GM A.J. Smith said in an interview over the weekend. “That’s going to trickle down to the team that has a problem with the individual player.”

In the past when players got in trouble, many could find work. Often times columnists, including myself, would be asking how come nobody is holding these individuals accountable.

Well, now it seems that Goodell is going to make sure that NFL players and employees understand that they have a privileged life and career and that it is imperative to be having the highest standard of values both in their professional lives and in their personal lives as well.

That is why guys like Smith need to pay attention to this year’s symposium and learn from the mistakes of those who have been suspended for the season or who have now been released by their old teams. What also has to be understood that being a pro athlete is a “unique” working environment.

The rules that one may think apply to them at work do not or will not necessarily apply to a professional athlete simply because they are “contract” workers by labor law. The league is relying more on that fact and many former players are in agreement.

One former player, Miles Moore, had e-mailed me in response to an editorial in which I had said that I would no longer write or report about Adam “Pacman” Jones. In his e-mail sent out to a listserv that I am a part of, Miles wrote me saying, “I endorse the position you have taken wholeheartedly, if for no other reason, out of honor for the game that I played and still love”.

I know that many other players I have talked to over the years feel the same way he does because they are not fed up with the current crop of players embarrassing the game they played back when money wasn’t the object of playing but the love of the game.

It should be the position that today’s NFL player takes. There should be no reason why Tank Johnson should have been pulled over at 3:30 a.m. in the morning on the suspicion of driving while impaired. If it were his first offense we would all understand but Johnson promised his employer that he would be a better person.

He didn’t live up to that agreement and he was cut loose. Terrence Kiel was once a promising defensive back for the San Diego Chargers but his off the field issues, especially his latest one that brought shame upon the team, allowed him to be fired as well.

What is scary that if Goodell was the commissioner just a few years ago, there may have been a lot more players who would not have been playing; i.e., Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, etc.

But that was the past and this is the present. The rookie class of 2007 need to understand that repeatedly getting themselves into a bind of a legal matter will not be tolerated and it shouldn’t be. This is something way too many a writer had wished upon long ago and now it is happening. And just what is that you may ask? A professional sports entity owning up to its social responsibilities.

Goodell’s approach to making the league squeaky clean and more enjoyable is not only institutional but cultural. Whether many like it or not, he is doing something that somebody’s momma or daddy didn’t have the gumption to do and that is discipline a wayward child. And if this sounds like he’s picking on race then so be it.

Pick whatever box you think his dictatorship style fits and fool yourself into thinking he’s trying to stick it to a class of people if you want. If you do, then you are not better than Troy Smith. That means you don’t get the big picture. The big picture is that in the real world, you would have been fired a long time ago for doing what you did and that is what happens in the real world.

Everyone deserves a chance to make a situation better but no one, no matter how famous or how athletically gifted, should be allowed to make a mockery of society and the laws of the land. That is what Goodell is hoping this year’s rookie class gets as the message. After all, being a pro athlete is no a “play thang” but a business opportunity.