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Life's playbook: Rookies get crash course in symposium on the pitfalls that can await in NFL

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BEREA, Ohio — To prepare rookies for life as professionals, the NFL is again providing a crash course filled with seminars, testimonials and advice on how to navigate the pitfalls of fame and fortune.

All the league really had to do was have the new players look at Commissioner Roger Goodell's appointment book Tuesday.

If Tom Brady can step out of bounds, anyone can.

While New England's superstar quarterback was in New York appealing a four-game suspension for using underinflated footballs in the AFC title game, the conference's rookie draft class, including the Titans' Marcus Mariota, continued a four-day symposium designed to get them ready for the NFL and beyond.

"That's why we're here," said Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon taken with the No. 2 overall pick by Tennessee. "They provide us information that will help us not only on the financial side of stuff, but on the field and off the field. And as we go forward, we'll take this information to hopefully help ourselves."

Now in its 17th year, the symposium is viewed by the league as a vital first step for its players, a springboard toward success. Panel discussions feature current and former players, who talk candidly about their experiences, whether it's being bilked by a financial adviser or a life-altering legal mistake.

Former wide receiver Donte Stallworth spoke to the group about the consequences of his DUI manslaughter conviction for hitting and killing a man in 2009.

"It just something that opens your eyes and makes you realize life it too important," Browns offensive tackle Cameron Erving said. "It makes you realize that life it too short to cut it short off something that is easily fixed."

With its red-white-and-blue shield stained last season by the Aaron Hernandez murder case and Ray Rice's domestic abuse situation, the NFL is trying to be more proactive in supporting its players with programs meant to help them and policies that will weed out the biggest troublemakers.

PHOTO: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley, left, signs an autograph for a student after football drills at the NFL Rookie Symposium in Berea, Ohio, Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley, left, signs an autograph for a student after football drills at the NFL Rookie Symposium in Berea, Ohio, Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Goodell has displayed a strong, swift hand with discipline, and the league has implemented a new conduct policy that calls for a six-game suspension for a first-time domestic violence offense and a lifetime ban for a second.

Charles Way, the league's new vice president of player engagement, said the emphasis during this year's symposium is on actions, not words.

"We tell them, you don't have to learn from others' mistakes, but you can learn from others' successes," said Way, a fullback with the New York Giants from 1995-99. "It's just being more positive, saying you don't have to be labeled as a bad guy because this isn't what this league is, this league is about values, respect, integrity, responsibility, resiliency and how if you use those values how it can lead to a successful life not just on the field, but off the field."

"It's educating these guys and inspiring these guys and empowering these guys to be great men. Not just good football players, but great men."

With their symposium winding down — the NFC rookies will be in later this week — the AFC players took a break Tuesday to play football with area school kids, some not much younger than the new pros.

Mariota and his Titans teammates, including wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, whose involvement in a domestic abuse case ultimately led to his dismissal at Missouri, broke a sweat running around inside the Browns' indoor training facility. It was a welcome break from the serious discussions the past few days and a chance to process a lot of information.

For Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, much what he heard during the symposium was familiar. His father, Brian, played center for the Giants from 1989-99, and has briefed his son on what to expect in the NFL. Still, the younger Williams said it was good to have the lessons fortified.

"I tried to take away from all of it, from the financial stuff, knowing how to set yourself up for the future and learning from veterans on how I should prepare my body," he said. "I've heard it from my dad, but it's always better to hear it from someone in the league, a teammate. It reinforces everything he always said to me."

Mariota seems to have a head start on some of the other rookies. Unlike many in his generation, he's abstaining from social media, a new distraction for today's players and a place where the misuse of a word or photo can have major repercussions.

"You've got to be careful," Mariota said. "I like to keep my personal life private."


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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Nine-year-old Brandon Buttrick, left, of Cleveland, reacts with New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams, center, and Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams during a running drill at the NFL Rookie Symposium in Berea, Ohio, Tuesday, June 23, 2015. (AP Photo/David Richard)
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