By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
Troy Vincent wants to make it absolutely clear that the upcoming NFL rookie symposium is not the beginning of the players' journey into the pros.
That trip began years ago.
"This is not something that starts when you become a professional," said Vincent, the league's vice president of player engagement and a five-time Pro Bowler. "There are elements that surround an athlete in his development, from youth sports through high school and college. It's a lifestyle.
"Parents are a key. What do they do with their youngsters who are playing sports as far as their mental health, their safety in the sport. Are we doing enough to encourage balancing their lives for those in athletics?
"Parents have questions, and rightfully so. And we should answer them, dispel the myths."
The symposium helps do that. This is the 15th year the league has brought together draftees to hear speakers on such subjects as "Are You Bigger Than The Game" and "What Defines Success?" This gathering, which is a bit different because of the location in Aurora, Ohio, with a side trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton, begins Sunday with four days of orientation for NFC draft picks. The AFC choices attend from Wednesday through next Saturday.
Scheduled to speak are several players who have experienced serious off-field issues, including Michael Vick, Adam Jones and Michael Irvin. Also on the docket are Terrell Owens, New England's Devin McCourty, Antonio Freeman, LaVar Arrington, Aeneas Williams, Jamie Dukes, Luther Ellis and Carl Eller.
Irvin and Eller are Hall of Fame members.
"Each rookie should leave the symposium with the knowledge and history of where our game began, where it is today, and challenged to make a positive personal impact on the future of our game," added Vincent, a former president of the players' union. "The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing players with the best resources to succeed both on and off the field."
The program will includes presentations and speeches, videos and workshops focused on NFL history, experience, player expectations, and professional and social responsibility. Other topics included player health and safety, decision making and maintaining positive relationships.
"Athletes are not immune to what takes place in society. They are not exempt to societal issues," Vincent said.
"We do have things in place to help deal with any issues, and we are very proactive in doing so. You have to retrain them or develop a new culture of thinking, and it starts with young men and ladies as they are maturing. This is a challenge not just as a sports organization, but as parents, as mentors and teachers. We welcome that challenge and charge as a league, and hope to become part of a greater conversation, be part of the continuing campaigns to raise awareness of these issues and problems that can come up."
©2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.