Vincent leads by example on and off football field

Updated: April 20, 2007, 11:53 AM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Troy Vincent's next role may leave him a legacy far greater than anything he ever achieved as a Pro Bowl defensive back.

Like a preacher leading a revival, Vincent is readying his followers for a change.

On this particular night, Vincent was reaching out to fathers and their mostly grade school sons about the importance of personal accountability, a devotion to the community and never using a deprived background or broken family as a reason to give up.

"No excuses," he tells the group.

Vincent could have easily made the same speech to his some of his fellow NFL brethren. And has.

As the president of the NFL Players Association, he knows the league and its players have taken a public relations hit because of the off-field misbehavior of players like Adam "Pacman" Jones of Tennessee and Chris Henry of Cincinnati, both recently suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

What Vincent sees concerns him. No matter how many times a Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson volunteer with children or in their community, their good deeds are often overshadowed by a police blotter littered with names. From rookies to veterans, Vincent believes athletes need to hold themselves to a higher standard. When one player is arrested, the image of the entire league is adversely affected.

Getting them to understand sometimes proves difficult.

"The young men don't care anymore. They're not scared," Vincent said. "They're not frightened to lose a job. Most of them don't come from anything."

Vincent said he backed Goodell's decision to hit Jones with a yearlong suspension and Henry for half a season. Not even the union can help a player when the spotlight is coming from a police car instead of from positive press and fan adulation.

"When you get outside of hours, wages and working conditions, it's hard to protect you," said Vincent, part of Goodell's six-member council of veteran players to advise him on a variety of issues, including player conduct. "It's hard to protect you when you're in front of law enforcement."

That's why Vincent tries to reach children, especially those from under underprivileged families, about the importance of staying in school and going to college. Vincent teamed with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Eric Snow to host 32 father-son pairs at a 76ers game this week where he shared stories about how he was proud to earn As and do more than just play sports in high school.

He had a message for the dads, too: be available. Vincent wasn't quite 2 years old when his father left him, leaving his mother and grandparents to raise him. He told the fathers how they needed to make time for their sons no matter what, and they should encourage other men to maintain positive relationships with their children.

"I had a father in the home, but it was my grandfather," Vincent said. "What we try and encourage is just for the men to stay involved in their children's lives."

It was Vincent's grandfather who spurred his interest in community involvement at a young age and his grandmother who made him take an interest in labor issues shortly after he broke into the league with Miami. Vincent recalled complaining about his 401K when his grandmother told him to use his voice and make a difference if he was that unhappy about his conditions.

Now the 35-year-old Vincent is the one offering advice and comfort.

He reached out to his former Eagles coach Andy Reid shortly after two of Reid's sons become embroiled in legal troubles. The two spoke at the Sixers game where Reid watched from a courtside seat.

The Redskins cut Vincent in February, leaving the 15-year former Pro Bowl cornerback without a team. Vincent said he's still working out and said a handful of teams have expressed interest in signing him, but he's at peace with his career if he never plays again.

"Do I still enjoy the game? Absolutely," he said. "Is there a greater calling? Absolutely. Right now I believe I'm walking in my purpose."

Vincent moved his family from the Philadelphia area to Washington. Most days he's in the union office learning from and working with Gene Upshaw, the executive director. Vincent realizes succeeding Upshaw is a realistic possibility.

"I don't think I really have much of a choice at this point because I've given so much over time," Vincent said. "I'm in the water. I'm not just sticking my toes in and checking the temperature. I think it would be hard to turn it off at this point in time. I love what we represent."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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