Locker-Room Culture Change Starts Now
The NFL begins its three-week, 32-team journey to improve the workplace environment. Plus, celebrating 25 years at Sports Illustrated, an owner talks Los Angeles and London, commencement speeches and a travel note to beat 'em all
A varied day in the world of Monday Morning Quarterback:
- The NFL starts its locker-room-culture initiative today in Atlanta—32 one-hour sessions in front of every NFL team by month’s end, continuing the league’s effort to Incognito-proof 32 locker rooms.
- In the wake of Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer’s death, thoughts on his colorblind impact on the game, and on the creeping ageism of NFL ownership.
- The week’s my 25-year anniversary at Sports Illustrated. I reflect on my Johnny Cash interaction at the beginning, Steve Young vomiting perilously close to my shoes in the middle, and me being an ogre of a boss at the end. (Groaning, you skip the 25th anniversary section.)
- It’s my annual recap of the best (or at least the ones the web spat out when we web-searched) graduation speeches of 2014.
- The disastrous Sean Lee injury for Dallas.
- Arthur Blank predicts a team for Europe. Or two. Soon.
- Steve Jobs once had a one-word message for Roger Goodell. (And it wasn’t “Plastics,” Benjamin.)
Happy June, everyone. The first training-camp practices are seven weeks from this morning.
* * *
Players, get ready for a lot of HR talk in the next three weeks.
Not home runs. Human Resources. The NFL’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Robert Gulliver, leads a three-man NFL team into Flowery Branch, Ga., today to meet with all players, coaches and selected executives (owner Arthur Blank will be on hand) to discuss how to improve locker-room culture. Gulliver and former NFL players Patrick Kerney and Donovin Darius will talk to the 100-plus Falcons at the team complex as part of the league’s efforts to make sure a Dolphins-type hazing situation never happens in an NFL locker room again.
“We believe the moment is now to really effect change,” Gulliver said over the weekend. “This is not a Band-Aid from [NFL offices at] 345 Park Avenue in New York. This is the chance to start a dialogue about what a more respectful locker-room culture is all about. While we have rules and policies on the books that talk about the workplace, what is also important is the culture that reinforces the rules and policies. We believe that a more respectful culture is part of a winning culture.”
Gulliver won’t make every trip. Nor will the same former players be at every stop; the league’s newly trained “Ambassadors,” scores of recently retired players drilled to instruct their ex-peers on the workplace environment, will fan out to different teams this month. Today, the Atlanta presentation will be about an hour long, and former Falcons defensive end Kerney—now the league’s vice president of player benefits—and Darius, the former Jaguars safety, will be there to help Gulliver drive home the point about respecting the guy next to you in the locker room.
What can be accomplished in an hour? It’s a logical and skeptical question. “It’s to start the dialogue, to provoke conversation,” said Kerney. “As players, we need to understand we’re all going to be out of there soon and into the real world. If we continue some of the behavior of the past, we’re enclosing ourselves in the bubble even further.”
In the wake of the Miami hazing culture blown apart by Jonathan Martin’s quitting the team last year, the league invited values-based-leadership author and speaker Dov Seidman to keynote the opening session at the league meetings this year. The NFL also has engaged former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out as gay after his career, to speak to teams about understanding homosexuality, both in society and in the locker room; Davis was dispatched to consult with the Rams for several days after they drafted openly gay defensive end Michael Sam in April. Now this.
“The moment is now,” said Gulliver.
Will it work? Can it work? I think the most important element here is the acceptance by coaches and the team leaders—especially the team leaders. In Atlanta, coach Mike Smith needs to be open to this; I’m told he very much is. But it has to be the players accepting it even more than Smith. Locker-room culture may be ruled by the coach, but it’s the players who have to live there for hours a day and understand it’s a new day. Kerney’s message is correct: This abusive and raunch boys-club-gone-wild atmosphere bubble doesn’t exist in the real world. Just because it’s been the tradition is many NFL locker rooms, why does it have to continue?