David Harris during a Michigan game
It might seem, with the steady stream of police-blotter stories involving NFL players this off-season, that commissioner Roger Goodell's emphasis on personal conduct is falling on deaf ears.
Not so, said Jets second-round rookie linebacker David Harris. At least not as far as he and the league's 2007 rookie class was concerned at the 11th annual rookie symposium two weeks ago.
"The commissioner's message was on line with everybody else that spoke to us," Harris said. "He was saying you've got to be professional. There's a lot of people looking at you, so don't do anything to tarnish the NFL."
The league knows the value of changing up that kind of message, so it brought a variety of former players and current veterans to the gathering, held this year in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Harris really enjoyed the remarks delivered by Cris Carter, the former Philadelphia, Minnesota and Miami 1,101-catch wide receiver. And this was a little hard to admit, since Harris comes from Michigan and Carter went to Ohio State.
"When Cris spoke, everybody was at attention," Harris said. "Pretty much he was straight up with us. He told us, 'You've got to respect the game, man. Do that and it'll respect you back. When you're done with the game, make sure it's in better shape than it was before you got there.' "
Jets second-year OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson also attended as part of a panel that included Reggie Bush. His message to the assembled rooks: "It's a business. You've got to present yourself in a professional manner."
Harris didn't mention names, but he's read the headlines — Goodell has suspended three players for eight to 16 games this season, and others continue to have their brushes with the law
"The NFL's been around for a long time. It's done a lot of good," he said. "Unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil the image of the league. The NFL was here before you got here, it'll stay around after you leave. What you want to get out of it is up to you."
The symposium, mandatory for all drafted rookies, provides information on much more than Goodell's conduct policy. This year's seminars also featured such topics as personal finances, career planning and developing life skills.
As earnest as virtually all the rookies are every year, it can be taxing to sit through four days of a mandatory symposium.
And for the Jets' rookie class — CB Darrelle Revis, OL Jacob Bender, WR Chansi Stuckey and Harris — the confab didn't end when they left Palm Beach Gardens. Their return flight to New York, originally scheduled to land at 6 p.m. Wednesday, suffered delays due to weather and other issues and didn't land until 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
After a good day's sleep, the four draftees rejoined the rest of their first-year brethren and returned to work. There's a whole lot of bonding going on in Hempstead, with the veterans having scattered and only the newest Jets working through last Friday before finally breaking for 2½ weeks of downtime.
But that doesn't mean beach blanket bingo for Harris. Before returning July 26 for the start of double sessions the next day, he'll spend some time with his family back home in Michigan. And he'll also lend his services as a counselor at a four-day youth football camp organized by a friend, Terna Nande, the Miami of Ohio linebacker drafted in the fifth round by the Tennessee Titans last year.
Harris, on the go seemingly since January, was asked if he was in danger of burnout before the start of his first NFL training camp.
"You get used to it," he said, not world-weary but rather matter-of-factly. As if he's already gotten the hang of the routine it will take to become one strong professional.