CARLSBAD -- Don't let the swanky surroundings fool you. For NFL rookies, this week at a posh hotel is about the harsh truths of the real world.
All 252 players selected in the 2008 draft are participating in a four-day symposium at the La Costa Resort and Spa, an annual event aimed at preparing first-year players for off-the-field issues they might face in the pros.
The topics include money management, player conduct, sexually transmitted diseases and dealing with the media. In some ways, it's pro football's version of scared straight, from speakers including current and former NFL players and a host of experts in various fields.
"The whole time they're telling you, 'Stay away from this, be careful with your money, camp's tough, season's tough, everything's tough,' " tackle Chris Williams, Chicago's first-round pick, said Tuesday. "But they're just trying to help us out as much as they can."
Said Mike Haynes, the NFL's vice president of player and employee development: "The primary function of the symposium is to let the guys know that there are a lot of resources there for them. Not only that, but there are a lot of players who have played this game before, guys they can go to and talk about these things."
There might not be any physical contact at this mandatory symposium, but any drafted rookie who chooses to skip it will be fined $50,000. According to the league, attendance has been perfect this year.
Among the discussion points:
Illegal use of hands
In the wake of the shooting death of Denver cornerback Darrent Williams, along with other incidents, the NFL is paying special attention to players using hand signals that look even vaguely gang-related. Rookies were informed that players who celebrate that way -- even if it's a fraternity sign -- will be subject to fines.
The symposium is crawling with overnight millionaires who can be easy targets for scam artists looking to relieve them of cash. Rookies are informed of the many resources at their disposal, including free corporate background checks from NFL Security.
"The first thing they have to realize is, if it's a super-great investment why are they coming to an NFL player?" Haynes said. "That should be a red flag."
Typically, the symposium includes talks from star players, some of whom have run afoul of the law, and others who simply have a story to tell. Ray Lewis spoke here after his murder trial. Randy Moss got the attention of the rookies, as did Peyton Manning.
Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher spoke at this symposium. So did Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen and free-agent receiver Koren Robinson, both of whom discussed their battles with alcohol abuse.
St. Louis defensive tackle La'Roi Glover talked about overcoming adversities, rising from the World League and rookie anonymity to the Pro Bowl.
Said Glover: "Guys hang on your words like you're E.F. Hutton."