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Dozens of incoming NFL rookies blowing an opportunity

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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If you were an aspiring young Republican and had a chance to hear -- for free -- Ronald Reagan discuss his ascension to the presidency, would you listen?

If you were a young graduate of the Wharton School and Warren Buffett invited you to a panel and you could ask how exactly he made his billions -- and the price was again a big, fat, freaking zero -- would you?

Or an actor and you could visit with De Niro and Denzel. Or a culinary student and beat eggs with Wolfgang Puck. Or learn to fish from Sarah Palin. Would you?

Undrafted Dallas star Miles Austin says rookies not attending are missing an 'invaluable' opportunity. (Getty Images)  
Undrafted Dallas star Miles Austin says rookies not attending are missing an 'invaluable' opportunity. (Getty Images)  
This week the NFL Players Association is holding its version of one of the most important events of every football year. The NFL annually has a rookie symposium designed to help young players break in smoothly while also teaching them valuable life skills like, oh, how to hold onto their money.

The lockout caused the cancellation of the NFL's symposium, so the NFLPA took over. Wednesday and Thursday in Florida the trade association is holding "The Business of Football: Rookie Edition." There will be numerous current and former coaches and players talking about life in football on and off the field.

All of the drafted rookies were invited. All of their expenses will be paid, including transportation costs. Attending won't cost them a dime. All they have to do is get their rookie asses down there. That's it.

Do you know how many of the 254 invited draftees are coming? According to a person with knowledge of the situation, about 150 or just more than half. Almost 100 rookies are blowing off the event.

The NFL makes its symposium mandatory and attendance is almost perfect every year. Of course the trade association can't make players go, but it shouldn't have to.

This is bad. This is an indictment on this rookie class. Look around the sport. There's so many issues players face -- financial, medical and dozens of others. Not to mention there's this little lockout thingy happening. How can a rookie afford not to attend (especially when it's free)?

"If I was a rookie, and I was invited, I'd go," Dallas Pro Bowl wide receiver Miles Austin, who went undrafted, told me. "From what I've heard, these things are fantastic. I'd do everything I could to go. To get advice from greats in the sport? That's invaluable."

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A handful not making it is understandable, but more than 100 not attending is inexcusable.

I don't mean to make the symposium sound as if God is going to ride down a bolt of lightning, tap the rookies on the head and give them the secrets to the universe. After all, there have been rookies who listened intently about how to stay out of the penitentiary, yet some still went on to shoot themselves in the foot and run dog-fighting rings.

The symposium isn't without flaws, and it won't reach everyone, but the trade association is playing the odds. It figures players hearing from current and former greats curtails the chances of them making horrid mistakes. And the names that show up are huge. In 2009, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin spoke on one panel and another included Charlie Batch, Cris Carter, Harold Carmichael, Kevin Mawae and Len Dawson speaking on financial management, among other topics.

The greatest threat to players is money mismanagement, and this year, one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, a NASCAR owner and a financial genius of his own, Joe Gibbs, will address the rookies on protecting the grotesque money many of them will make once the lockout ends.

Gibbs recalled to USA Today numerous conversations when he coached the Redskins that went basically like this: "A player would be upset with his contract, [and] we'd be in serious discussions. And during the conversation, it dawns on you, 'Are you in financial trouble?' That happens over and over again."

If it was happening in Gibbs' office, it was, and is, happening in many different offices throughout the NFL.

"You can never get enough financial advice," said Austin. "You have to protect your money and players need to learn this at a young age."

Some of the rookies will hear those valuable financial life lessons.

But many, out of sheer laziness, won't.

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