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Reality check

Marvin Jones

For a minute, the thing sounded like it was another man-made disaster of a show. Put it opposite Dance Moms or Sister Wives or maybe even Pawn Stars meeting Ice Road Truckers in a snowbank.

Pacman and T.O. addressing the rookies at their NFL-sanctioned symposium on Thursday afternoon?

What's next? Chief Justice John Roberts speaking to the Heritage Foundation?

But his Bengals teammates gave the clear and final benediction of Adam Jones's rise from poster child to poster board Thursday night. This wasn't one of the cliché-encrusted-hype-addled-breathless-network-studio spiels or a vapid video montage.

It was as real as a year-long suspension and Chapter 11 as the pair opened up on years of pain to speak to the rookies on what not to do in the NFL.  

"I don't like reality TV because I wonder how true it is," rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones said from Aurora, Ohio. "This was more reality than TV. This wasn't glamorous. This was real people. It was real people feeling real emotions. You could feel how badly they felt about the decisions they made. It was very well done."

If a rookie with the same last name gave the benediction, then a man who played 207 NFL games at Jones's position of cornerback welcomed him into the fraternity seven years after he got drafted.

"He was open," said Troy Vincent, the NFL vice president who saw Adam Jones speak to the NFC rookies Monday. "He was vulnerable. He was just raw. It was unfiltered. Now he's contributing to the National Football League."

So they say is the symposium, which the league has streamlined and consolidated in its 16th year. No longer sprawled over five days at a resort, the symposium is now shoved into three and a half days in the Cleveland suburbs, in large part so the players can take a bus and soak in the history of the game at the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Even good guys, they say, have to listen.

"It's always good to hear the dos and don'ts and be reminded," said Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals starting rookie right guard. "It's helpful. I'm looking forward to hearing more about the financial stuff and the information about Medicare."

It's fast-paced, Zeitler says. He compares it to the brisk, in-and-out schedule of the scouting combine. For instance, the Bengals rookies didn't have a chance to greet Jones after his talk because they were on the next stop.

"When I get a chance in the locker room," Zeitler said, "I'll probably thank him."  

The Bengals rookie class has been universally praised as not only one of the best draft crops on the field, but also off the field. Jones, a fifth-rounder, has his sights on graduating from the West Coast Ivy of Cal Berkeley. Zeitler, the first-rounder from Wisconsin, has been trying to deflect talk about his rare 40 in that 40-yard dash of brains known as the Wonderlic. Wide receiver Mohamad Sanu came out of Rutgers and the third round smart enough to show up and play three spots in his first NFL practice.

But they're still taking notes.

"You can be a good guy," Sanu said, "and still be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Even before they met him at Paul Brown Stadium during the May camps, the Bengals rookies knew that's how Adam Jones had gone from draft phenomenon to NFL outlaw. Every rookie in the league knows it.

Making it rain. A year-long suspension. Owing $11 million in an ugly civil suit.

But this week Jones was in the right place at the right time.

"We got better because of him," Vincent said. "Our young men became better because of his words."

Adam Jones, back in Cincinnati on Thursday night, could only hope.

"I wasn't nervous; not at all," he said of speaking. "You've got to remember, we play in front of 60,000 people every week. I just wanted to tell them the facts. Don't act on impulse. I told them I've been blessed with the chance to come back with a great organization with the help of guys like Marvin (head coach Lewis) and (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer)."

Vincent thought the most powerful part of Jones's message came when he talked about staying away from entourages and retaining personal responsibility.

"The influencers. The people he put around him that were 'yes' people," Vincent said. "He constantly talked about hiring 'yes' people and firing people that were good for him. He was outstanding."

It was as if, Vincent said, one of the ugly headlines speak to them.

"He was as relevant as you can get to that audience," he said. "And we're not trying to say this is what the NFL is all about. Adam is not a reflection of all of it. Not many in the audience have any connection with that lifestyle, but there was a sector there that he spoke to. And resonated with."

Vincent thought he would have a good speaker when Jones called the NFL volunteering for the symposium. "That showed the maturity," Vincent said. Then when he saw the players gather around Jones after it was over and exchanging phone numbers, he knew he had a good speaker.

"There are privacy reasons. I don't want to say who I talked to," Jones said. "But there were some guys that were asking me about situations and how I would react now. Yeah, some guys have my number and if I can help, I will."

Sanu says he has been there for Jones out on the field for the last month. He never knew the Adam Jones of the headlines.

"I love to learn from him. Ask him questions about routes and technique. He's really helped me," Sanu said. "We didn't see him in the locker room (Thursday), so he wasn't joking around. He was serious. He gave a lot of insight. He was trying to make us understand that he didn't want us to do what he did."

Marvin Jones has also been listening to Adam Jones's on-field seminars, but on Thursday he was remembering one thing Adam said about off the field.

"Just five minutes. If he'd taken five minutes to think things through, he wouldn't have gotten into trouble," Marvin Jones said. "Yeah, that's what he said. Five minutes."

Jones admitted his eyes were bulging out when he heard Owens speak. While Adam Jones talked about steering clear from bad situations and shady relationships, Owens, who last played in the NFL for the Bengals in 2010, talked mainly about financial responsibility.

"Whenever you see somebody like that, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, how he carried himself on the field ... the numbers don't lie," Marvin Jones said. "T.O. was good. He talked about how he didn't use the things the league has available to do background checks on people. How he could have done a better job trusting the right people."

Adam Jones is thankful the league trusts him when he thinks back to some snippets from Thursday. Like the kid who approached him after his talk.

"He wanted to thank me. He told me, 'I think you just saved my life,' " Jones recalled. "If I can help only one kid, then I'm happy."

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