clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Does The NFL Need To Do Something About “Locker Room Culture”?

It feels evil to interrupt Packer week, but this season? Well, I'm good with it.

Adrian Peterson takes aim at the idea of changing NFL locker rooms. Or an opposing defender. Either way, he's going to crush someone.
Adrian Peterson takes aim at the idea of changing NFL locker rooms. Or an opposing defender. Either way, he's going to crush someone.
Jamie Squire

//clears throat, returns to soap box//

Well, to be fair, last you heard from me hopefully I didn't come off too preachy. That's something I do generally try to avoid, because frankly I don't like it when others do it. When I wrote my piece regarding hazing in the NFL I tried my best to give two viewpoints- one of me as me, and one of me as a father, and how I did have some conflicting feelings in that regard. (Remember, if you don't have a kid/s yourself, always understand this: parenting= automatic hypocrisy.) I then allowed the discussion to commence, and Ted followed up by accusing me of wanting to watch DN burn. (Mwahahaha!)

This piece though is going to have a slightly different tone. I wanted to try and avoid that but really, I don't have what you would call "conflicting feelings" about this, either as myself, as a father, or as anything else.

People have begun speculating recently whether or not NFL locker room culture has gotten out of hand. It of course all started with the Richie Incognito, uh, "stuff", and then began to really pick up steam when NFL referee Roy Ellison and Redskins OT Trent Williams got into it on the field last weekend, with Williams calling Ellison... some things... and Ellison, well, calling Williams some things right back. (This is a family website and those quotes probably aren't front page material.) Because of the racial nature of some of the language used, some are blaming the same "locker room culture" scenario that was partly blamed for the Incognito- Jonathan Martin fiasco.

And just as how we mentioned Jared Allen weighing in on that last time (to try and keep what I write somehow related to actual Vikings stuff this season), we have another leader of the purple and gold who shared his thoughts on this: one Mr. Adrian Peterson, who I think is our 3rd string running back or something. (Actually, he's referring to the fact that Incognito used a slur towards Martin, but it got a lot of attention after the Ellison/ Williams incident, and has been used to highlight what happens in a locker room.)

"You really got to understand the environment you're in. You are in the locker room with 60 alpha males. Sixty guys who are in the NFL, they are men. So, when I actually heard about the situation it was funny to me because I really couldn't believe it was taking place in the NFL locker room.

There's no other... not even basketball, where there's so many guys in one space. Things like that happen. People say crazier things than just the N-word."

Here's the thing. AD is right- an NFL locker room cannot be compared to the water cooler at your 9-5. As some players have pointed out, expecting people who sell widgets to have the same office mentality as men who smash other men for a living is absurd. That's like thinking that the military is going to have the same basic mentality as the Boy Scouts. There might be some basic comparisons, sure- both can probably tie knots better than I can. But to think that they're actually comparable beyond the most superficial levels is ridiculous.

Those calling for the NFL to take greater charge in operating how locker room mentalities and cultures exist are failing to realize that. They think that the normal office mentality in the United States should somehow be superimposed on NFL players are the type that want to make omelets without breaking eggs. These are more than just grown men who have to hit each other to make a living- as AD pointed out, they're also your "alpha male" types. I've often said that one cannot be successful in the NFL without a certain level of arrogance. That doesn't mean you have to be a jerk- look at guys like Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson, who seem like genuinely nice, humble people off the field who wouldn't mistreat others without really good cause, and are more likely instead to go out of their way to be nice and helpful. But on the field? In a locker room? Manning's never going to humbly admit that "yeah, Tom Brady is better". He wouldn't be successful if that thought even existed in his head. Manning will forever tell you he's the best, and that he's going to f'ing prove it to you, and you better believe he himself feels that way 100%. So you get a locker room filled with guys who ALL have that mentality, and yes, things are going to be a bit different that other workplaces, where alpha males exist (largely) solely at the top and there is a requirement for beta males or whatever you want to call them to exist in other spots. Even NFL players who will admit that they need to learn more and graciously accept help from a veteran in that regard do so with the expectation that one day they will be better than said vet. Players who are not alpha males, who do not have the willpower to prove, drive to earn, and absolute belief that they are or at least can be the absolute best at their position- they often don't last.

Locker rooms across the NFL are probably not places you want to take your young children, or your girlfriend/ wife. (Unless of course they're accepting visiting fans and are behaving more politely, I'm talking about the general day-to-day.) These men are bound in brotherhood, they have to fight daily for their jobs on a physical, mental, and emotional level, and yes, they're going to be ruffians about it. (Points for calling NFL players "ruffians?" Points for calling NFL players "ruffians".)

And that's going to include language too, folks. I understand that the NFL doesn't want players dropping f-bombs when being interviewed- considering kids are watching, yeah, that's probably something you want to avoid. But when there are no cameras or microphones around, these guys are not going to use their church voices or words. And you know, if players are OK using racial slurs amongst themselves, that's fine too.

Whoa! FLAME WAR BEGIN! OK calm down keep reading. This isn't going to turn into a debate about whether or not slurs such as the N-word or any other racial epithet are generally OK. That's a matter of personal preference when it comes to private situations and we're just noooot going to debate that here. My own personal feelings have always been: if it's private between close friends who are all OK and comfortable with it, then whatever. If it's public? Never OK. (Standup comedy sometimes notwithstanding.) Some people disagree with that and think that racial slurs are never OK, even casually amongst consenting friends in private. (I had a very close friend, sadly who is no longer with us, who felt that way.) And I completely and wholly respect that position as well. Some will say using them as terms of endearment rob them of their power; others think they should be removed from our vocabularies 100%. Again, I see both sides of the issue and think both sides have legit points; but this is not the place to debate that.

But there is a certain reality to it that also cannot be denied. If that's how a group of players talk amongst themselves privately, and nobody is being offended, then why should you force intervention on the issue? You cannot make NFL locker rooms totally PC because then players won't be totally comfortable in the one place they can relax and cut loose. Asking these guys to be public role models has to take a toll from time to time; at least they have their sanctuaries where they can drop that part of their job.

We ask these guys to go out and risk their health and, at risk of slipping into melodrama here, in a sense their very lives for our simple entertainment. Yes they may be well compensated but let's face it, these guys do some very nasty and dangerous stuff just so you and I can relax and cheer for our team. (OK, so there's not much for Vikings fans to cheer for this season, but whatever.) Why do we want to force them to act like a choir when they're in private amongst themselves? We can't give them that one place of freedom and relaxation?

Look, players are going to make mistakes. In a sense it's like the NFL's attempts to make the game safer. Some moves are legit, others are head-scratchers, and it can make you want to scream "FOOTBALL IS DANGEROUS, GET OVER IT!". You're never going to remove injury or danger from the game. And in the same way, you're never going to remove the chance that a player will do something really stupid and embarrassing- whether it's Richie Incognito thinking it's funny to leave a voice message threatening to slap someone's real mother or to sexually harass/ outright molest a female volunteer at a golf tournament; or whether its Williams screaming the N-word at a referee (who wasn't a friend in private that would be OK with it, mind you). These situations are very bad, and these individuals need to be appropriately punished. But in the effort to play ‘prevent rather than react' it can be very easy to go too far, and attempting to make players act a certain way within locker rooms falls squarely into that ‘too far' category.

Changing "locker room cultures" to such extremes, across the board, will have a negative impact. It's one thing for a team to change certain issues- like the Vikings deciding that there needed to be more structure and discipline after the Love Boat incident- but for the NFL to come into all 32 teams and try and make them as safe as daycares is lunacy. These are grown men- let them act like grown men. And when one becomes an a*hole, then handle him like an a*hole. (And believe me- people like Incognito are going to be jerks regardless of what the locker room is like. You can't fix stupid, as Ron White so famously and eloquently put.)

Am I wrong? Do you think the NFL should forcefully change locker rooms to make them more PC? Now's your chance to make your case.

Remember- pure discussions on the use of racial slurs in casual contexts is verboten. This is the Daily Norseman, not an NFL locker room, so I get to control that. If you want to discuss it purely in the context of the NFL- such as, "what if one player is offended?", there's a very fine line you can skate. If I see comments I don't like, and I'll do my best to monitor as long as I can, I'll delete them. As always, if you see your comment deleted and re-post it or something like it, then you're an idiot and you're going to get a timeout.