Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

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


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.