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Rookies ready for next stop

Adam Jones

As a kid growing up in Alabama, rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had heard all about Pacman Jones. After all, he played cornerback, too. But when the Bengals drafted him in the first round back in April, he ended up meeting Adam Jones.

"I haven't had anything negative from him," Kirkpatrick says. "He doesn't want to see me following in his footsteps. Just being around the wrong people. Surrounding myself with not a lot of positive people. Those are the things that he's been trying to tell me."

And it's exactly what Jones plans to say to Kirkpatrick and his classmates at the June 24-30 NFL rookie symposium in Canton, Ohio, site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

NFC rookies attend from June 24-27 and AFC rookies go June 27-30.

"I was pathetic," recalls Jones of his arrival in the NFL as the league's sixth pick in the 2005 draft.

While the veterans have already left for the summer, the rookies have one more week of conditioning at Paul Brown Stadium before heading for Canton and then splitting until the July 27 start of training camp.

The symposium began 16 years ago and is designed to warn rookies of the pitfalls of off-field life in the NFL, ranging from financial to physical to social, and consists of lectures, panel discussions, videos and workshops, as well as a history lesson via tours of the Hall of Fame. Eric Ball, the Bengals director of player development, has attended every one since 2000 and watched how conduct has become the signature issue of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's term.

"If they don't (listen) with the sanctions and everything else ... if you're not paying attention you find out the hard way," Ball says. "Every business has its orientation and this is the NFL's orientation for first-year players. They do get inundated with information, but the league's goal is to expose to them to what will occur while they're in the NFL."

Jones found out the hard way by becoming Goodell's poster child for his crackdown on the slew of off-field fracases involving players at the time he took over on Sept. 1, 2006.

"I had no respect for the money I got," Jones says. "I had respect for football. (But) I acted like I was still hanging out in college. I didn't realize the scrutiny that came with it."

Jones is the latest of several troubled players that have rebounded well enough to be asked by the league to let the rookies hear their stories. Ball says Jones reached out to the NFL to do it last year, but the symposium was wiped out because of the lockout. This year the league expressed interest, which shows just how far Jones has come and how important the NFL thinks the conduct message is compared to six years ago.

Jones says he's on a panel each of his four days at the conference and why not? He can speak on just about everything the rookies are going to face. He had an entourage so big it needed a zip code, got tied up in financial snafus, and played himself off two teams and out of two complete seasons before the Bengals signed him in May 2010.

And even though he has become active in the Bengals community efforts, joined forces with Cincinnati police chief James Craig to help inner-city youth, and settled down with fiancée Tish and 22-month-old daughter Triniti in Cincinnati's eastern suburbs, the mistakes still haunt Jones.

The Associated Press reported Friday that a Las Vegas jury has ordered Jones to pay $11 million in damages to two Las Vegas strip club employees injured in a 2007 shooting. A lone gunman claimed he was doing Jones's bidding in a spree that left one employee paralyzed from the waist down. Jones's lawyer told the AP he would appeal the verdict.

Jones, who reportedly had been ejected from the club, has denied he had anything to do with the shooting. But he had already been involved in several incidents with police and it spurred his year-long suspension from the NFL in 2007, led to his trade to Dallas and more controversy in 2008, and no contract from anybody in 2009.

But he has done enough that the guy that was carried out on Goodell's shield has been brought back behind "The Shield."

"I think guys in his situation and have made the turn, I think Roger Goodell reaches out to those guys," Ball says. "Because they do have a story to tell and it's a story that needs to be heard. We've had guys (at the symposium) in this situation. ... (One) told his message, but the problem with his delivery is it wasn't done with sincerity. He kind of slighted it. When Adam speaks to you, he does it with sincerity. And that's the message he'll be able to get across to the guys."

And an entourage is on top of Jones's list. As in, don't have one.

Jones says he had people around him all the time. Now it is just Tish, Triniti and in another couple of weeks, his other daughter, six-year-old Zaniyah, is spending some of her summer vacation with them. His family. Or teammates. Or himself. That's about it now.

"I was trying to do for any and everybody that was around me from childhood," Jones says. "I would fly them into games ... you live and you learn. That will be a big part of the message.

"When it gets down to the get-down, none of those guys will be there. When you hit that dark wall, the only person you can probably call is your mom. You have to go through it. It's easy to say, but when you go through it, it really hits you."

Jones changes his phone number every six months so the only people that have his number are the only people he wants to have it. He said he had to grow up to realize it was high school and college stuff.

"At the end of the day, the entourage wasn't there when you were in college, working extra hours in your books or running back touchdowns, or defending balls, or when your mom is sick. ... Most of the time they're not the people you call to get a good conversation, or get your back."

If it sounds like Jones has thought about what he's going to say, he has. He'll tell the rookies he's gone through about $6 million after getting bounced around in business. And if they don't already know, he'll probably tell them that six years later he's working on what has been reported as a one-year, $950,000 deal with incentives.

Jones admits he could have staved off some of the financial hits.

"I easily could have got it checked by the NFL," Jones says. "But I was moving 120 miles an hour and I didn't."

This is just some of the stuff he's telling Kirkpatrick and other Bengals rookies.

"At first people still don't understand that you're a product of your environment; I'm still a product of my environment," Kirkpatrick says. "Sometimes for some people it takes them time to mature. Fortunately I had (Alabama coach Nick) Saban to be hard on me, to keep me focused, to keep me doing the right things. Those are some of the things I took. Obviously he didn't have that growing up."

But Kirkpatrick says he'll be listening to Jones in Canton as intently as he listens to him in the secondary room, where he says Jones has taken the time to "be a mentor" and go over certain techniques with him.

"Just learning how to be a better pro, that's first off," says Kirkpatrick of what he expects to take out of the week. "Meeting new faces, meeting some of the guys I didn't get to meet that got drafted. Pretty much just bonding."

Ball is also hoping the rookies pay attention to the history that awaits them in the Hall of Fame.

"For first-timers who have never been there, (they'll) see how the game has evolved, where it began," Ball says. "Associating some of the names that you heard of and some of their accomplishments.

"First African-American players. You can see where the game started, the uniforms. Can you imagine playing a game with no facemask? Leather helmets and shoulder pads were a piece of cloth or whatever. Having those old uniforms and seeing where it is now. Those are the type of things I think will affect the guys, help them. Will it change their mind about the game? Who knows?"

Ball says the week is going to be special because Jones is the first active Bengal to speak to the group. He has no doubts the room is going to be riveted.

"He's not telling a story about what-if or possibilities. It's when this happened and this is what happened and this is my mental thoughts about what I was going through at the time," Ball says. "He's even able to talk about and express his thought patterns now. How that has changed. What has changed him to not think about things the way he did in the past vs. something (that) occurs now and he processes it a lot differently and I've seen that in action."

Ball says Jones has "a heck of a story to tell." And he's already got the quote for the week:

"Things catch up with you," Jones says. "But they don't catch up with you until they catch up with you."

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