Michael Johnson is our man on the ground at the NFL Rookies Symposium in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He'll be giving a daily report on the most covered orientation in American business that opened Sunday night and continues Monday through Wednesday in meetings lasting daily from 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.*
Michael Johnson didn't want to go.
But after an evening of brainstorming with his teammates and fellow rookies from the Dolphins and Raiders as they discussed the reasons why people they know never made it in sports, the Bengals third-round pick is wondering what else is in store the rest of the week.
"I'm glad I'm here," Johnson said Sunday night as the 11:30 p.m. bed check loomed.
"It sounded boring when I first heard about it. Meetings all day and all night with nothing else to do. But now that I'm here, they've gone all out to show how much they care. It makes you want to make sure you don't let anybody down."
Johnson, a high school valedictorian who graded highly in character when the Bengals scouted him out of Georgia Tech, is all ears even though the program is geared to players who haven't been so blessed off the field. Earlier this summer Johnson was giving advice himself as his high school's commencement speaker back in Plantersville, Ala.,
But Johnson is smart enough to know there are pitfalls out there even if there haven't been any yet. The symposium goes beyond behavior and discipline. Rookies are also exposed to the financial and social problems that can arise with fame and fortune.
The heavy hitters were rolled out to welcome the league's 256 draft picks, such as NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and former linebacker Marcellus Wiley, whose four NFL teams are asterisks after playing at Columbia. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made an appearance via video.
But Johnson came away talking about the ensuing breakout session with rookies from the Bengals, Dolphins and Raiders in which Bengals director of player relations Eric Ball and director of security Rusty Guy participated with their counterparts from Miami and Oakland.
"Between the three teams there were over 100 years of NFL experience," Johnson said. "We've talked about this stuff as a team already, but to hear about it from others gives you another look at it."
In Cincinnati during May and June, Ball and Guy led the 11 Bengals draft picks through a variety of sessions dealing with criminal behavior, drugs and alcohol, banned substances, media and family. They will do more during the year, but this week they're able to compare notes league-wide.
Which is what they did after first meeting as a team Sunday night to discuss what qualities they have seen in other players that failed before sitting in with the Dolphins and Raiders.
"When we got back together, all three teams had the No. 2 reason as drugs," Johnson said. "The No. 1 was a little bit different, but we all pretty much had the same things on the lists. Not a good enough work ethic. Too many distractions. Women. Attitude. But it's interesting we all had drugs ranked second."
When the Bengals met separately, it was a chance for Johnson to see his teammates in a different setting and he was impressed with the way Andre Smith and Chase Coffman spoke about their experiences. Johnson added some thoughts, but he made sure he was taking notes.
"We're all getting to know each other and this was another step in that, too," Johnson said. "You get more relaxed the more you're around guys."
On Sunday night before the breakout sessions, the players saw some skits detailing problems as varied as tickets to girlfriends and how to respond.
"The girlfriend thing doesn't apply to me, but I've seen what has happened to some of my friends and a lot of it was familiar," Johnson said. "The things they're talking to you about are choices and consequences. Every choice has a consequence."
Johnson already had help with the ticket problem. People just don't seem to understand that tickets aren't free.
"When I got drafted, my momma told me, 'Get the Bengals ticket number and put it in your phone,' " he recalls. " 'And when they ask, you give them that number.' "
But there are just some things that mothers can't help with, which is why the league brings in a diverse panel. It was not lost on Johnson that it was Smith's first appearance at the symposium as NFLPA chief and that Wiley comes out of the Ivy League.
"(Smith) was smooth. I was impressed with how well he spoke and how much he cares about what we're doing," Johnson says. "Wiley went to Columbia so, yeah, that does get your attention a little bit. He talked about taking advantage about what you've got."
Before they broke into groups, they also brought in a couple of "old" rookies who went through it last year, such as Dustin Keller, Harry Douglas, Chris Long and Eddie Royal.
"Chris Long talked about how your technique is so important now because everyone is so good," Johnson said. "And Eddie Royal said you have to study your opponent because he's going to be studying you."
Johnson said he didn't come into the week with any opinion of Goodell, viewed by many as even tougher than judges when it comes to handing out punishment.
"I don't know enough about him or all of this to make any judgments like that," Johnson said. "I hope people would do that for me. I'm not going to pre-judge anybody."
But Johnson did make a call on the itinerary. With an 8 a.m. Monday start, he left an early morning wakeup for him and roommate Clinton McDonald, the defensive tackle from Memphis.
"Got to get a workout in," he said.