NFL concludes week that will spark plenty of changes

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It began with Michael Sam, and it ended with Richie Incognito.  Taking the last five days together, it’s clear that the NFL will soon be making major changes to the way it does business away from the field.

In less than a month, Incognito will lobby for a second chance (technically, a third chance) to prove that he can behave like a responsible human being in the workplace.  In less than three months, Sam will be hoping that his first chance isn’t undermined by a “distraction” caused by nothing illegal or inappropriate.

Ultimately, the league will have to construct policies and practices which ensure that men like Sam will be respected, and that men like Incognito will be dealt with long before creating a distraction far more real and far more damaging than the extra media attention that comes from being the first NFL team with an uncloseted gay player.

Ted Wells’ report recommends that the NFL create “new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.”  Look for the league to quickly focus on these big-picture realities, finding a way to craft new policies, to teach them to players, and to hold them responsible for complying.

Ultimately, it’s about having mutual respect.  Plenty of joking happens in plenty of workplaces.  Fundamentally, however, coworkers are expected to display mutual respect.  Even in lines of work that command mental and physical toughness, whether coal mining or law enforcement or military service, the men and women who serve together are expected to demonstrate mutual respect.  If they don’t, they face consequences.

At some point, the locker room became frozen in time, as other workplaces evolved and modernized.  Some players possibly received a pass because of the rough-and-tumble nature of football.  Or maybe we’ve underestimated their ability to treat each other with decency and courtesy.  Or maybe guys like Incognito are the product of two-plus decades of chronic excuse-making that happens the moment a young boy shows high athletic ability and the will to use his talents aggressively, on the field and off.

Really, is there any other American workplace where the question of whether an openly gay player would be welcome would be asked in 2014?

The days of “Richie being Richie” are over, for Richie and everyone else like him.  The challenge for the NFL will be to convey that message clearly, and to establish meaningful tools for keeping every potential Richie from being Richie.

And players who feel harassed need to have a place to turn, even if that means the creation of an anonymous hotline that allows players like Jonathan Martin or concerned teammates to blow the whistle without fear of repercussion.  Regardless of the precise details, the time has come for the NFL to ensure that, even if it is on the fringes, the Dolphins situation won’t repeat itself.

If discipline will be used to ensure that these situations don’t happen again, some sort of discipline may be necessary for those deemed to have engaged in harassment of Jonathan Martin and others.  Incognito already has been suspended eight games (two unpaid); Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, and Jim Turner could be next.

Unless, of course, the NFL decides to implement culture change in a way far different than it did two years ago, when it caught one of 32 teams red-handed with a bounty system, and threw the book at the Saints.

Regardless of what happens to the various Dolphins players and coaches for what happened in the past, the bar is going to move a lot higher for everyone moving forward.

25 responses to “NFL concludes week that will spark plenty of changes

  1. With the beating the shield has taken was Rogers’ 44 mil worth it?
    Hey Fonzi, get your skis ready. Maybe a reverse mortgage of Rog’s bonus?

  2. I feel kinda bad for Jon Martin at this point. Incognito’s selective release of text messages “exonerated” him in many people’s eyes and turned Martin into the bad guy, when really those were just part of the story.

  3. Teams shy away from signing guys all the time that are “undermined by a “distraction” caused by nothing illegal or inappropriate.”

    That’s why the Jets were the only team that wanted Tebow and his distractions. It why Manti Te’o fell in the draft. It’s why the Pats got Corey Dillon for nothing.

    The media is trying to call NFL teams and players bigots when the truth is the media themselves are the ones creating the distraction which may hurt Sam’ draft stock.

  4. Well written op-ed on this whole situation.

    The fact that it Jonathan Martin had to walk out on the Dolphins to get the NFL to address this issue shows that there are huge problems within the NFL’s business culture.

    People will make jokes about “sensitivity training”, etc., but the fact is that we have a situation where coddled jocks have to be taught how to behave appropriately in society. This goes way beyond the Jonathan Martin situation, and the other incidents of bullying/harassment in the Dolphin’s locker room. Richie Incognito sexually assaulted a female volunteer at a golf outing and didn’t have to face criminal charges. The team covered it up, fined him, and didn’t make him pay the entire fine.

    Of course this goes on elsewhere in the league and at the NCAA level. Hopefully everyone feels like they just got put on notice.

  5. NFL players are no different than the rest of society. The vast majority will have no problem with a gay teammate, others will spend a few weeks with him and realize any apprehension they had didn’t make any sense and will quickly and sincerely adapt, and then there a few biggots. Likewise the overwhelming majority know how to treat other people, some will take things too far – get called out on it and realize they were wrong and a few just won’t ever learn. I highly doubt whether biggot, harasser, or violent criminal are often very affective in team dynamics or pursuits. Hernadez got himself into custody and would be unavailable if he wasnt’ cut, Incognitio forced a teammate to quit. The consequences of these guys are quantifiable. If they aren’t smart enough to adapt to life, I question their ability to adapt on the field in game situations.

  6. I hope so. Now we know what happens when you take a bunch of ‘roided-up black guys, from broken homes, with no education then give them a ton of money and turn them loose.

    Whoops, I mean that rich white guy picked on the black guy so he’s a racist bully! I am outraged!

  7. thepftpoet says:
    Feb 14, 2014 3:50 PM
    Notice how there’s no Minnesota Vikings players involved?

    We have the most classy players & personnel in all of sports.

    Everybody looks up to us.

    Okay this is a joke right? Did you forget he love boat incident? That and your winning record. Yeah, every NFL franchise looks up to you and wants to emulate your success. (Or is it suckiness).

  8. It starts at the top, but you also need leaders at every level setting the example. The Patriots would never have this problem with Kraft and Belichick at the top and Brady in the locker room.

    I think this also reflects poorly on Tannehill, who came out in support of Incognito and claiming complete ignorance to any issues.

  9. I’ve been saying what the report suggested as a recommendation; a comprehensive approach on player conduct. What Ross is doing in Miami with his committee is way too limited in scope.

    It will be crucial for the NFL to hire the best attorneys, human resources specialists, psychologists, football experts, public relations people, and even women to offer much needed perspective on player conduct. Bring in former players for a reference on ‘old school’ thinking and model policies in what not to do. They all sit at a table until they come up with a stellar policy.

    Then apply these standards across the league and integrate as addendum to the current NFLPA now.

    They need to look at locker room and player privacy. Andrew Luck was standing naked in the middle of the locker room after their playoff win. Reporters including women were there too (they cannot be excluded of course). I’m not saying he did something egregious, but their policy to open the locker room so soon after the game does not afford players the privacy owed them. That has to be addressed through policy.

    Also, they need to consider limited (all facilities) renovations. Re-engineer existing showers to small single use showers where ALL players are afforded privacy and peace of mind. Maybe the NFL can pick up the tab for that.

    This is an issue which should not be dismissed as ‘who wants to look at your body’ put downs, or why do you think you would be of interest to them. This is clearly disdainful of people who feel they have a legitimate concern. Give ALL their privacy.

    Sexual and bully harassment ends. Get rid of sub cultures. Name calling ends including the use of the N word and the F word by all. Don’t do it, then expect lawsuits by players who feel offended (bullied) via word or actions, all avoidable through org policy. Because lawsuits may be a way to go when a career is no longer a go.

    Make every single one of them go through HR training as part of their contract, not some half ass training. Violations should include heavy fines and no salvation through trades, free agency, etc. They can play in Canada.

    No one guy is special over the whole. Players with mental health issues should have full psychiatric evaluations and should be treated no differently that a guy with a heart murmur.

    Like Wells said, comprehensive. This is no longer limited to the Dolphins.

  10. If the guy can play who cares if he’s gay. But he can’t expect the whole team to walk on eggshells cause he’s gay. Normal men act like normal men. As long as they aren’t specifically targeting gays get over it. They are gonna say things that may offend gay’s, but here’s a thought.. Maybe they’re offended by gays. Anyway, we all work with people who we don’t like or get along with but we suck it up and deal with it. I don’t care what people do at home, but damn I’m tired of hearing about gay issues. And Martin is a big baby with issues.

  11. It’s interesting how this site labels one distraction as quotes and demands the need for tolerance when a gay player uses the media to create news but jumps head first onto the bandwagon in support of the way Tebow was discriminated against by the league and media. They. Should place an asterisk next to the word discrimination every time they use it with the sub clause *exludes religious tolerance. I know that anything related to NBC shares its agenda but I’ve never seen an example so blatant before.

  12. As long as I don’t have to read comments about how this is all normal locker room behavior anymore. If it was normal behavior there would have been 53 players named in the report, not 3 plus 1 victim. As for the Michael Sam thing, it’s not even an issue once the draft is over. Those days are done and anyone who says other wise just exposes them selves as the bigots they are.

  13. As someone who has spent many years in the HR field, and worked with training employees and implementing the types of policies being talked about, I can tell you that you can certainly provide training and you can put in place the needed policies, but you cannot change the way people think. What you can change is how they act, by putting in place a system where such behavior is reported and is investigated in a timely fashion by management. This not only sends a message to the people acting this way, but also to the people who see what is going on but are afraid to report it or think reporting it will be futile.The other part of the message has to be that such behavior will have consequences to whomever is found guilty and ideally such consequences are spelled out beforehand in the policy that is issued so that people know what is at stake.

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