When Kevin Mawae joined the NFL, in 1994, players didn't talk much about security. Now, as president of the NFL Players Association, the 37-year-old Titans center is often asked by his peers about the threats NFLers face. His message: You can't be too careful.
Everybody in the locker room is worried. Because even though the league does a lot to educate players about safety, the responsibility is the individual's. Will you take the knowledge the NFL gives you and apply it? Or will you just blow it off? I still remember the one thing Bill Parcells always said: "Don't go where you're not known or where you're not wanted."
Not that taking precautions guarantees anything. Darrent Williams had a limo. He was with friends. He was trying to do the right things. And he still got targeted. Guys have to know that it doesn't matter what you do, there's always something out there that could harm you. I have a quote that hangs in my locker that says: be careful of people who want what you have but aren't willing to work hard enough to get it. Before we hire a babysitter, we run a background check.
I think back to my rookie year 15 years ago and how loose things were. We used to drive out onto the runway, park our car and just walk onto the plane, like, hey what's up. It's tightened down 100-fold from that. Now, we have dogs who sniff our bags before we even get on the bus to go to the airport.
When I first got here in Tennessee I was away at training camp and my wife and kids were in our new house. She got a call from a neighbor that said a van has been parked on our street for three days with a guy using binoculars to look at my house. So I called NFL security. We got a license plate number and the local sheriff stopped the guy at a grocery store a few miles from my house. It turns out he was totally harmless. He was an older gentleman, from New York, a big New York Jets fan and he just wanted a chance to meet me. But there's a perfect example of: You just never know.
If I had to guess about our locker room, I'd say it's fifty-fifty when it comes to gun ownership. I don't own a handgun. I have a hunting rifle. My job is to protect my family. If someone comes into my house? Game's on. Outside of the home, it's guys who aren't humble enough to back down who find trouble. I know of a player who was carjacked. Now, the egotistical player might want to fight. But he did the smart thing and said, "Hey, take it." That's hard for an NFL player to do, because your psyche isn't built that way. But do you want to keep your manhood or keep your life?