NFL’s effort to change locker-room culture starts today

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In the wake of last year’s embarrassing scandal in Miami, where tackle Jonathan Martin left the team after incessant harassment from multiple teammates, the NFL has become determined to effect change.

As explained by Peter King of, the process begins Monday, in Atlanta.  That’s where the NFL’s chief human resources officer, Robert Gulliver, will meet with the offseason throng of Falcons to discuss locker-room culture.  Joined by former NFL players Patrick Kerney and Donovin Darius, Gulliver hopes to ensure that the situation that unfolded in Miami won’t happen again.

Or, perhaps more accurately, to ensure that, if/when (when) it happens again, the affected team will be in better position to defend itself against potential civil liability.

‘We believe the moment is now to really effect change,” Gulliver told King of the sessions that will be conducted for every team. “This is not a Band-Aid from 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.”

The rules and policies have been on the books.  The problem, based on Miami’s experience, seems to be that the teams haven’t done enough to bring the rules and policies to life via meaningful and creative training sessions.

Examples must be provided in a way that players can easily understand and relate to.  The information needs to be specific; players need to know what they can and can’t say, and what they can and can’t do.  On-field coaching routinely entails clear, unmistakable orders about a player’s assignments and duties.  The same type of clarity is needed in this context, too.

Before the draft, Washington safety Ryan Clark said that players need bright lines for dealing with men like Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player.

“You want to know how you can behave around this person,” Clark said at the time.  “Anyone who has been in a football locker room knows that there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of ribbing.  We’ll talk about anything.  If a guy is fat.  If a guy is ugly.  If a guy’s significant other is not attractive.  These are things you josh each other about and you talk with each other about.  In what ways can you talk to him?  In what ways can you involve him in your conversations?  What are the things you can do and say around him that won’t make him uncomfortable?  That won’t make him feel that he’s being ostracized?  Or that won’t make him feel like he’s being harassed or quote, unquote bullied?”

A far more comprehensive list of dos and don’ts will be needed, if the goal is to prevent another Jonathan Martin situation.  If the goal is simply to protect the underbelly from a potential lawsuit that would fall beyond the scope of the labor deal, all that needs to be done is to get the player’s signature on the form saying he attended the session and that he received the packet of paperwork that is destined to take up permanent residence in the bottom of his locker.

21 responses to “NFL’s effort to change locker-room culture starts today

  1. i thought at this point we’ve clearly determined that Jonathan Martin WASN’T the victim of bullying, but was messed up in the head and just wanted out of his contract in Miami. Why do we continue to advance the initial narrative of him being some righteous victim, when it is clear the evidence has proven that to be false?

  2. Really Ryan Clark? You need to be told how to act around Sam? How about like he’s a HUMAN BEING, and not the people you must regularly call friends….geesh, no wonder our Country is so screwed up!!

  3. Martin wanted to cash his checks w/o working. There’s plenty of evidence that he gave as much as he got. But now the PC police are involved so jokes and hazings will be an afterthought. For 90+ years no locker jokes & hazings were ever a problem, but little Johnny had to squeal for some notoriety.

  4. Nothing would of prevented the Martin situation as he was a hyper sensitive player who was not good enough to play in the NFL and he knew it. Martin’s issues were not about the “bullying” but were about him being a terrible LT, just watch the games, the guy was a turnstile and could not accept that. If things were so bad for him for so long why did he “snap” right after his worst game after he was demoted?? The entire incident was about him not having to pay back his signing bonus money and was totally concocted by his lawyer mother so that her poor BABY would not have to pay Miami all that money back. Was he treated bad?? Yes but nothing more then every other NFL rookie.

  5. Thank you Jonathan Martin, your inability to relate to men and conduct yourself around men has now made life a pain for every other player in the nfl.

    He will always be a weak man in everything he does. And every man will know he is weak when he walks in the door

  6. I work in a office job where we have a project team and we have fun and make jokes. Nothing too non pc but still we have fun at each others expense. I expect the locker room is similar but with much more non PC talk, I just don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We are a nation of hyper sensitive people who are conditioned to call anything we perceive as negative as bullying. I feel sorry for our kids, they will have no shot in the global marketplace with the victim attitude.

  7. Thank you J.Martin for being a Hero! says all the Lawyers, HR People, NFL Front Office Execs and Mr. Wells’ Staff AND NO ONE ELSE!

  8. A lot of businesses require employees to do “training” on harassment, usually sexual harassment. If you’ve not attended any such “training” you get lectured for a couple hours, maybe more. Basically they explain what harassment is and how to report it. It’s not too bad because there is usually snacks and it’s a good time to play some angry birds or candy crush.

  9. Ryan Clark was right to say that the league needs to better define what is acceptable words and behavior in the locker room. If the NFL follows Corporate America’s Politically Correct, fear – based culture, then they had better be willing to define what is “offensive” and what is not. Maybe some sensitivity training during two -a-days…

  10. In other news, to avoid hurt feelings and disappointment, the NFL has ruled that every team will now receive a Lombardi Trophy in February, and every player in the league will receive a Super Bowl ring.

  11. Jonathan Swift’s version of Gulliver’s Travels was a political satire and ruffled some feathers that probably deserved to be yanked.

    It sounds like the NFL version will do much the same.

  12. Stop treating them like boys, if there is ever a problem in the locker room they will sort it out, they’re men. This league sometimes pisses me off.

  13. Just put tampon dispensers in the locker rooms. Can’t let a few girls ruin a game for men.

  14. I would be shocked if we ever see a “good” player file a bullying complaint. Martin’s lackluster play did nothing to help him fight for a spot on the Dolphin’s squad, or change his peer’s minds about him. He was soft, but even worse, he played soft.

  15. This is exactly what bugs me about the whole Jonathon Martin affair: the dumb act the NFL is playing as if they were totally ignorant of behavior similar to (although possibly not as bad as) what occurred in the ‘Phins locker room. This amnesia despite yearly stories that treated rookie hazing as if it were part of the process of team bonding. They could have formulated policies a long time ago that drew clear cut boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, but they did not.

  16. C’mon guys. Let’s all sit in a circle (crisscross applesauce style), hold hands and sing “let there be peace on earth”.

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