Quarterback Michael Vick and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones were highly touted draft prospects, and both players were taken early in the first rounds of their respective drafts -- Vick first overall out of Virginia Tech in 2001, and Jones sixth overall out of West Virginia in 2005. Each man started out hot in the NFL before running into serious legal trouble. Vick, of course, served almost two years in a federal penitentiary for his role in the Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting ring. Jones was recently found liable to the tune of $11 million for his role in a Las Vegas strip club shooting in 2007.
Vick has seen a measure of personal and professional redemption since, while Jones is still looking to establish a foothold in the NFL to a serious degree. Both men served long NFL suspensions, and their names are each synonymous with a side of the NFL that the league would prefer didn't exist. However, each man spoke at this year's Rookie Symposium, an annual orientation for first-year players.
From Vick and Jones, the message was simple: Don't do as I did.
"I'm a firm believer in God, and I believe in karma," Vick said during his speech. "If you do so much, if you cross so many people, if you don't appreciate what God gave you and the position that you're in, he'll take that away from you. And he took it away from me.
"As I sat in a prison cell, I understood why I was in there. That's bad. You don't want to end up that way. True story: I could see it all coming. I could see it happening. I thought about it. I asked myself, 'Should I stop doing what I was doing?' And I didn't stop. That's having no discipline."
Vick was especially pointed on two subjects -- personal associations and money management.
"The best thing for me to do was going to prison, being able to separate myself," he said of his former entourage, which included key members of the dog-fighting ring. "I wasn't strong enough to get away from them. I wasn't strong enough to say, 'We're not going this direction. I ain't living like this no more. We can't condone this type of activity.' I wasn't strong enough. I needed the legal system to say, 'You all can't be around each other anymore.' That's the situation I created."
Vick then moved to the matter of financial responsibility. Though he's the only person in the history of the NFL to sign two different contracts worth more than $100 million on the high side, Vick has experienced serious money trouble along the way. "Trust yourself," he said. "Everyone in here can count, right? Raise your hand if you can count. Shoot, I can count. Count your own money. You make it. You don't need an accountant and all that -- that dog and pony show. That's just extra. An extra invoice that you're going to get.
"Get a couple people you're going to trust -- that you're going to get to know. There are people out there that you can trust. My situation? I had a couple of judgments against me. People who were holding my money while I was in prison weren't paying my debts. And I had money to pay it."
For Jones, the messages to send were about regretted choices and missed opportunities. When he was done, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner waited to speak with Jones one-on-one. "He was going through something that I was going through, so I asked him personally what he did so I can try to apply it to my life," Wagner said. "It helps knowing that somebody went through what you went through. You can take what you need from it and apply it to your life ... A lot of players in here are going through some of the same things, whether it's baby mamas or trying to pick a financial adviser to an issue with an agent. We can learn from this. We can learn from him."
It's normal for rookies to feel 10-feet tall and bulletproof, but the Rookie Symposium endeavors to turn that around into truth. As Vick emphasized, fame is all too fleeting.
"Once this is over, it's over," Vick said at the end of his speech. "I've seen a lot of dudes come and go. I'm blessed God gave me the talent to still be here. But don't take this for granted. I could be gone tomorrow. You've got one hell of an opportunity.
"Enjoy the ride. Congratulations."
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