By Tim Graham
AURORA, Ohio -- Right around the corner from where I worked at the Las Vegas Sun's old offices, there was a sign on West Charleston Boulevard that read: "Drugs, Guns, Booze."
That gun-selling pharmacy and liquor store at the Westgate Shopping Center doesn't exist anymore.
But for at least a day it moved to the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in rural Northeast Ohio, where the 2013 NFL Rookie Symposium is being held.
Today's sessions warned the incoming class not to be dummies when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, substance abuse, drunk driving and firearms.
On the topic of guns, the NFL brought former defensive tackle Tank Johnson.
"I'm just here to talk to you guys about firearms, guns, gats, straps, all that stuff that we keep seeing pop up in the media all the time with our young athletes," Johnson said in his opening remarks to the AFC rookies, including the Buffalo Bills' crop.
Johnson, the Chicago Bears' second-round draft choice in 2004, was arrested multiple times for unlicensed weapons.
"The main thing that caused me those troubles, coming from Phoenix and moving to Chicago," Johnson said, "was bringing a car full of my guns, thinking it was going to be sweet like it was in Phoenix, where you can buy an AK-47 at Circle K."
While on probation in December 2006, authorities found in Johnson's home six guns, including a loaded AR-15 assault rifle hanging from his bedpost.
To Johnson's credit, he didn't blame his problems on ignorance of Illinois' gun regulations.
"While you're playing in the NFL, you do not need a firearm for any reason," Johnson said. "The NFL does a great job of putting these resources around you where you don't need a firearm.
"Having a gun is not going to help you when that moment comes if you're not trained on how to use that gun."
Although not discussed today, Johnson was with bodyguard William Posey when Posey was shot to death at a Chicago nightclub. It happened the same week as the raid on Johnson's home, where Posey also was arrested.
The NFL suspended Johnson in 2007. A condition of his reinstatement involved not owning any guns as long as he was an active player.
Johnson told a story about how he wished he was armed when he confronted two men burglarizing his car.
"At this point, I'm terrified," Johnson said. "If I had my gun, I would have been ready. It would have gone down, whatever. It was fixing to gown down."
Johnson said he went to purchase a Glock .40 the next day, but while he was waiting in line decided to call NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who told him, "Tank, put the gun down." The NFL offered to put security detail at Johnson's house instead.
"If you have a firearm handy, sometimes that can compound your troubles," Johnson said. "Somebody could piss you off, and you could look over and see your gun and think 'Oh, I'm just going to scare them.' That alone can put you in jail for a long time."
Johnson also shared some advice for rookies as they're about to enter their longest self-supervision phase of the year. After the symposium, they'll be left to their own devices until they report for training camp.
Bills camp opens July 28 at St. John Fisher College.
"Be aware of the slow media market," Johnson said. "Just look at it right now. NBA championship just got done. Football doesn't start for another couple months. So these journalists are just looking for anything, traffic stops, anything to nail you to the cross.
"You guys should be training now anyway. ... Anything you do is going to be magnified times 10 because nothing else is going on.
"Back in the old days, you used to get that slap on the wrist. Well, that slap on the wrist is now a kick in the nuts with steel-toed boots."