In an ordinary workplace, a boss who screams obscenities into the faces of his underlings would not be tolerated. One of the lessons that HBO’s Hard Knocks has taught us through the years is that an NFL team is not an ordinary workplace.
On Tuesday night’s episode, Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong lit into several players with a string of profanity and nasty insults.
“Who do you think you are? The game don’t mean enough to you, and that’s very f–king apparent,” Armstrong told one player during a film session. “You better wake up and get your pride in the game. Go out there and play like s–t? The s–t was coached the right way! I don’t want any excuses, selfish ass. What the hell is this? Look at this crap. Are you kidding me?”
As the team reviewed tape of a blocked punt, Armstrong exploded.
“It ain’t OK to go around here and not know. That ain’t cute. It ain’t OK. Really don’t care. That’s as selfish an act as you can make. Grow the f–k up,” Armstrong said.
Two rookie defensive linemen were singled out for poor play on the field goal unit. Armstrong told Jacques Smith, “You do what I tell you to do. You understand, Smith? You ain’t good enough to be an asshole. Do you understand that? Do you understand that?” And Armstrong told Ra’shede Hageman, “Do you start on defense? No. So what you going to do, sit your ass on the sidelines and watch the goddam game? We got enough people around here doing that s–t. Ain’t important to you.”
Armstrong made a point of explaining to the players that when he’s disappointed with them, he’ll tell them to their faces, “one man talking to another man.”
That’s fine, but Armstrong’s tirade raises some questions about where, exactly, the line is when coaches are addressing their players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made respect the theme when he opened the owners’ meeting in March. Goodell’s emphasis on respect was a direct result of the situation that unfolded in Miami last year, when Jonathan Martin decided to leave the team because he couldn’t take the way he was being treated in the locker room anymore. Richie Incognito may be wondering why he was suspended and treated like the NFL’s worst villain last year for his unkind treatment of Martin, while Armstrong can insult players with impunity.
An NFL meeting room may never look like an ordinary workplace, but NFL players do have the right to be treated respectfully. Armstrong treated his players with something less than respect.