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.

Ex-Falcon Patrick Kerney will be among the NFL contingent in Atlanta on Monday to discuss locker-room culture. (Paul Spinelli/AP)
Ex-Falcon Patrick Kerney will be among the NFL contingent in Atlanta on Monday to discuss locker-room culture. (Paul Spinelli/AP)

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?

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443 comments
Mat X
Mat X

What, no excerpt from  Barack 0bama's epic commencement speech at West Point?  Where is the love?

johng721
johng721

If Smith/Vick is over, why did you have to write 2 points on it.  Like your column but you're adding to the nonsense

BruceWayneBasa
BruceWayneBasa

"That should be the significance of Glazer’s run in the NFL—he was colorblind at a time when many teams, and owners, in the league were not" - Please don't use the phrase "colorblind", that phrase is an oxymoron and false and minority folks like myself call BS on that......talk to your friends who are minority and get educated on why that term is insulting....

MickPatrick
MickPatrick

This is beyond parody: The NFL's sensitivity sessions are being held in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Be nice, boys.

metalhead65
metalhead65

I know it is all about the money but wouldn't you think goodell and the owners would want to listen the fans before they make changes to the game? nobody wants to see the playoffs expanded just so the cowboys can make them or a team with a good record could not win when they should have and did not make them. nobody wants the league to turn into hockey and the nba where everyone but the worst of the worst make it. and make no mistake when they do expand and the league makes more money because of it they will do it again. fans do not care that there is not a team in la la land and could care even less about one over seas. football is a American sport and should stay they way. the games sells out because it is a curiosity for them and another excuse to get drunk for a day but they do not know what they are watching or care about it. as for the culture change that is just what the game needs to slow it down are a bunch of stupid penalties for name calling. enough of the pc nonsense and let them play football! they are grown men and if someone is bullying them then stand up for yourself! it used to be if you stood for yourself even if you got your butt kicked you stopped being picked on.

ianlinross
ianlinross

Teams in Europe? Gimme a break. Can Goodell just maintain what's there? Does he have shareholders to answer to? Leave it alone.

wlewisiii
wlewisiii

Re: the greying of the league.


Green Bay. All teams should be owned that way. 

skanee00
skanee00

American football is an uniquely American experience. Keep the NFL in America. Let the foreign countries start their own leagues if they want teams.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

he couldn't have included people erick legrande.  also most nfl fans if you ask them, why do you care about growing the game in london, as i bet you ask these owners that have the london game there fuming because they lose a home date, and this year you're going to ask lions fans get up at 6 am to watch your team

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

I predict the Raider defense will be a top 12 defense this year go Raiders.

EmmettJohnson
EmmettJohnson

So what your telling us is that 2 of the best coaches in the game, Belichick and Payton, have no respect for you, yet the problem lies with them and not you. Peter, i think you needed a longer look in that mirror.

John4
John4

The number on the Giants player's helmet does not match his jersey.  Why is that?

gary7
gary7

This how I like my Peter King, great 25....not the GM King or the Anonymous Source King

TomTofTampa
TomTofTampa

Peter,  Re your list of Classiest NFL people?  I know you say you missed some.....but no Tony Dungy???? Here in Tampa there's nobody in the NFL more deserving of the title "CLASSY".  Ask Derrick Brooks or Warren Dunn, two guys (deservedly) on your list, if they'd give up their place to have Tony on your list. No doubt in my mind on that question.


riverotter1968
riverotter1968

Love how Arthur Blank totally dodged the question of pricing fans out.

connorjohn508
connorjohn508

want to watch football players play football, and I could care less if they drink beer, smoke pot, or eat pancakes on their off-time. If they are a habitual user and risk taker the law will catch up to them and punish them accordingly (and the NFL can follow suit). It's tough to lose some of the most exciting players in football because of an issue that has more to do with an outdated moral system than harm to the game (or, arguable, to anyone). People justify the punishment by saying that "you have to be an idiot to fail a drug test in the NFL", shifting the culpable act from the recreational activity to the act of being simple minded. Since when has the NFL punished dumb players? I could really care less about the intelligence of Josh Gordon or Daryl Washington so long as they are not injuring innocent people... I mean, Ray Rice SLUGGED A GIRL IN THE FACE AND KNOCKED HER OUT but instead of a per se suspension (i.e., second time positive test), we wait for it to play out... as if some magical reason to justify punching a woman's brains in will arise in Rice's defense. I am not a Browns fan, nor am I a Cardinals fan, but I am a fan of the game and 2014 is now a year that those teams can never get back.... all because of a harmless recreational activity. It just doesn't seem right, and it doesn't help provide the product we as fans want to see. Peter King often makes connections between the NFL and broader society to show the leagues role beyond the hash marks.... Here is another opportunity for the league to affect social progress, because here, like in broader society, it is the drug policy and not the drugs that are doing the most damage.


P.S., an example of how other industries are struggling/adapting to the changing moral system, the FBI just went to Congress about the difficulty of hiring the best and brightest because many of those individuals indulge in the recreational use of marijuana. (http://fortune.com/2014/05/28/does-the-fbis-marijuana-policy-breed-dishonest-applicants/)

DickKeefe
DickKeefe

Peter - you forgot to include commencement speech remarks from Condoleezza Rice.  Oh wait...


Dan Hodous
Dan Hodous

6 pages - 25 years.. congrats but without one mention of anything for the Chicago Bears my proof of BIAS against them has now been proven beyond a shadow of any doubt.

vspoke
vspoke

Nice pic of Pete pressed up against a bent-over ball player.

Dani
Dani

'dumb story of this offseason' ! Yep ! For sure. Smith will be the starting QB. Why ? Vick does not getting  younger. And on the first injury ( it's gonna happen ) there will be no doubt on who will be the starting QB.

guykingii1
guykingii1

I have a problem with the Saints'   "bounty scandal" not being regrettable... when even PK recognized that many teams ran their own versions of the same effort.  Leaving out context details makes it easier to pick highlights and lowlights.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

I still don't get how Peter calls the Saints the best story of the last 25 years.



Pat Tillman's selfless decision to serve his country and turn down a million dollar plus contract to join the military was my favorite.  He paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.  Although he was killed by friendly fire, it does not diminish the role that he played or the inspiration he is to so many Americans.  In a time in our culture when the sports world stories are dominated by greed and bad behavior, this one made many of us proud.


The Saints story is murky at best.


JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@metalhead65


I don't think racial slurs have a place anywhere and whether you like it or not NFL players are looked up to by kids.  Parenting can only go so far, but I don't want to be at a game when someone on the field is slinging that cr^p out of their mouth around the kids.  It isn't all about the players.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@metalhead65


I disagree.  We have all seen too many times when a cr^ppy team wins their division with an 8-8 record only to have a 10-6 or 11-5 team not make the playoffs because they were in a tougher division.  Look at what happened to Arizona last season.  They went 10-6 in a division with Seattle and San Francisco and don't make the playoffs.  Green Bay gets in at 8-8-1 because they win the North.  Both teams deserve a shot in the playoffs.  I don't have a problem with a slightly expanded playoff to eliminate these kind of problems.  


I think most football fans don't care about this particular expansion as much as they care about having an expanded playoff format in college football.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@ianlinross


I don't care for the teams in Europe deal because we already hear too much about jet lag from coast to coast.  

olmanwinter
olmanwinter

@EmmettJohnson Yeah, because Belichek and Payton (Spygate and Bountygate, respectively) are the kind of stand up, morally sound fellas you hope for approval from.

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

@TomTofTampa Tony Dungy is to religious for a liberal moon bat like Peter King but I agree very classy guy should have been mentioned

John4
John4

@Dan Hodous Yes, BIAS.  After all, the Bears were great for ONE SEASON.  

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@guykingii1


So you are saying because other teams did it then it was ok?  That's stupid!

olmanwinter
olmanwinter

@JimSmith4 Tillman's story is not really a football story though is it? The politics surrounding it are messy. 

The Saints, and their impact on the city of New Orleans post-Katrina is an amazing story. 

guykingii1
guykingii1

@JimSmith4 The murky part is how everybody forget other teams had their version of a bounty on opposing teams.  Highlights are easy to pick out when journalists leave out any semblance of detail in the context.  But "best" and "worst" are absolutes which are impossible to prove.

Scramble
Scramble

@JimSmith4 If someone had attacked us and he was going to defend our country, then it is a great story.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@olmanwinter


The Saints and their story comes with baggage.  Bountygate swept under the rug to try to dog and pony a feel good story.  


The circumstances surrounding Tillman's death were cloudy until the investigation was finished and I believe that it was important to display those facts of what happened that day.  


Friendly fire does occur on the battlefield, but it in no way detracts from the service and ultimate sacrifice made by that individual.  The public needs to understand this about war.  I am not going to argue about what war is or about what that war was or what it was about.  I am going to support those serving us in the military because ultimately they do not make the political decisions.  The serve when called and I am grateful for that.


Regardless of how he died what mattered about this story was the choice he made to serve his country in a time of perceived need and that he walked away from a profession that by all accounts he loved dearly because he felt it was his duty.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@olmanwinter


Completely disagree with that point.  The politics are not messy.  He chose to serve his country regardless of any political leanings.  


He was a highly successful pro football player that passed up a contract worth millions to serve his country.  It is absolutely a football story.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@guykingii1


So you are saying because other teams did it then it was ok?  That's stupid!

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@Scramble


I am supportive of our military personnel without the right/left leanings.  They serve when called.  Period.

Mike26
Mike26

@MickPatrick @olmanwinter @EmmettJohnson They might be really bright guys but it's hard to respect them with the garbage they've pulled over the years - or garbage they've ALLOWED over the years.  Both deserve disdain for their arrogance in that regard.  Payton has won ONE Super Bowl in 7 seasons and hasn't sniffed it since.  Belichick has dominated a mostly-weaker division for a decade but hasn't won a title since Spygate FOR WHATEVER reason.  They are both good coaches/strategists but as management types aren't overwhelmingly effective.

arthur3
arthur3

@JimSmith4 @guykingii1  It's not that. It's that the whole thing turned out to be crap, seized upon to prove the NFL's concern for it's players (I mean dollars).. 50,000 pages of so-called documents; film of the "give me my money" clip; etc. etc. Mary Jo White impaired her integrity by declaring that they had it locked. What did they come with? About 5 handwritten pages from a coach that was fired and an audiotape of Williams the loudmouth before a game in which NO had no penalties and the only player knocked out was Pierre Thomas on a helmet to helmet hit by Whitner. It was so worthless that Goodell's patron Tagliabue threw out all the charges and held specifically that no money ever changed hands nor was there any evidence of a deliberate attempt by any player to hurt anyone. But he couldn't humiliate Goodell completely and the season suspensions were already up for everyone except Payton, so he let that slide. Peter King bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker, and now says he was justified in doing so.I like King's work, but it's no wonder Payton has no time for him.

duder
duder

@JimSmith4 @Scramble of course they deserve support and sympathy -- but the wars themselves are immoral and imperial. 

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@arthur3 @JimSmith4 @guykingii1


Oh please with the nonsense already.  The reason the suspensions were allowed to "slide" as you put it and the supposed lawsuits from players didn't materialize is because the NFL realized that they could be opening up a Pandora's box due to the rumors that a few other teams did the same.  


No matter what the NFL always spins it just like King for the survival of their enterprise.  


If you believe there were no bounties you are just another Saints fan drinking the Kool-Aid. 

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@duder


That's your opinion.  Regardless of your political views, it does not change what kind of character Pat Tillman had that has made many of us proud.

arthur3
arthur3

The player suspensions did not slide. They were OVERTURNED. No money changed hands means Tagliabue found no evidence of bounties being paid. You need to get your facts right. Or maybe you can prove Tagliabue was on the take.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@arthur3


All to preserve the NFL.  Just like concussions and every other laughable thing that they do.  Its all about the money.  They know public image doesn't mean squat to most of their fans.

arthur3
arthur3

Oh I can agree with you there. We have common ground and that was my point.. They had to get rid of the concussion lawsuit so they tried to prove their bona fides.

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