Editor’s note: LaMar Campbell is a former cornerback for the Detroit Lions. He is currently the host of “Life After the Game” on Voice America and the director of media relations for the Atlanta chapter of the NFLPA. He is on Twitter.
Two back-to-back tragedies have struck the NFL fraternity: Dallas Cowboy Jerry Brown’s fatal car crash and Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide. These tragedies make me realize now more than ever that accountability is needed on every level of the game -- from the front office to the player on the field.
Every NFL rookie deserves a chance to learn what it means to be a professional athlete. With that title comes responsibilities not only in his performance and decision-making on the field, but also in his life off the field. And it’s the off-the-field decisions that are more likely to impact everything the young athlete has worked for.
The “what have you done for me” culture of the NFL has sped up the learning curve for most of the athletes leaving college. In the NCAA realm, a lot of these athletes have never had an opportunity to experience a job or the responsibilities that come with it.
Because of that, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) offers a rookie symposium to drafted players, where legends of the game speak about the pitfalls of drinking, excessive spending, the allure of nightclubs and the people who prey on the success of a 21-year-old millionaire.
The NFLPA also has an approved list of financial advisers. Most financial advisers have established partnerships with the players’ agents. Since most athletes trust their agents to have their best interests, this is the route most athletes take.
The NFL has also initiated numerous programs which help promote player safety and encourage players to think about decisions that could affect their post-playing career. NFL Lifeline is a resource where players, coaches, family members, and league staff can get confidential help from professionals trained to assist individuals in an emotional crisis. The NFLPA Safe Ride program is where players can call for a safe ride home if a player is intoxicated. The league also has a confidential substance abuse program. Sadly, some players may fear team repercussions for using these programs.
But the least educated are always the most exploited.
I walked into the Detroit Lions locker room knowing my job was up for grabs. I spent my entire rookie year in a part of the locker room affectionately known as “death row.” While established players had lockers that were connected to the wall, free agents and lesser-known players had lockers in the middle, which served as a constant reminder that your job was not guaranteed.
As an undrafted NFL player, I was not able to attend the rookie symposium. My education was simply trial-and-error and conversations with veteran players. As far as finances, I was equally naive. Upon receiving my first paycheck, I remember asking a veteran who FICA was and why he was taking all this money out of my check!
I was willing to ask questions and subject myself to possible ridicule because I wanted to be informed, but many players choose to suffer in silence. Many players equate success with money and do not recognize other areas of development that are needed in order to be successful.
There is never enough that the NFL and the NFLPA can do to help curb off-field issues. However, it takes the responsibility of every player to acknowledge the need for assistance.
I get it: There is one thing every NFL player wants after signing their first contract... another one. I have been in that locker room, feeling like I'm invincible and untouchable, thinking the bad stuff won't happen to me.
Players need to take individual pride out of the equation and take advantage of what is available to them. I would advise players to invest in what got them to the NFL in the first place: Nutrition, physical and mental health, knowledge of the game, and financial responsibility.