Two events in the past two weeks made America’s armchair sociologists dissect the ecosystems in NFL locker rooms, the offices of alpha males paid to play a sport built on confrontation.
Missouri linebacker Michael Sam announced he is a proud, gay NFL prospect, prompting introspection into how he would be received by teammates at the next level, and attorney Ted Wells released his report on misconduct in Miami that created a “pattern of harassment” against Jonathan Martin and others.
ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth, who won three Super Bowls with the Redskins and the Denver Broncos, wrote a column arguing the code of conduct in NFL locker rooms, at least the one he learned in Washington, has higher standards than the culture portrayed in the Wells report.
Schlereth is uniquely qualified to discuss the issues at play.
In 12 years as a professional football player, he saw what constituted acceptable behavior on two teams. Schlereth can understand some of Martin’s experiences from his past dealing with a learning disorder and the teasing, shame and embarrassment that came with it.
He wrote the NFL code he learned was built on protecting his teammates.
“Many have said Martin has broken “the code” and will never be welcomed back in the locker room,”Schlereth wrote. “What about “the code” that says we love one another? We play hard for one another? We set aside our differences and bond together as one?
What about that fraternity, that code?
The code of championship locker rooms, in which men sacrifice for each other, in which they consider others more important than themselves, in which they embrace — not ostracize — each other. That’s the locker room I grew up in and the code I adhere to, and my football career is filled with examples of reaching out, and looking out, for teammates.”
In his column, Schlereth relayed how Joe Gibbs set the tone for the Redskins locker room in 1989 by listing two priorities above being the best at football: the players’ relationships with their faiths and their relationships with teammates and family.
Schlereth wrote that his rookie hazing consisted of occasionally buying food for the offensive line, and even then veterans would sometimes reimburse him. He said he had to sing his school’s fight song, but Russ Grimm put a measure in place to ensure that duty wouldn’t be abused.
When Schlereth declined to join teammates in the the 5 o’clock club for beer and card games , they didn’t hold his absence against him. The guard shared one instance of self-policing in Denver, but that lasted all of one word.
Schlereth detailed an environment he felt was mostly misunderstood.
Not every NFL locker room is a haven for bullies.
“In light of the Incognito/Martin story, people would have you believe that you have to be some raving lunatic to play in the NFL, wound so tightly that the slightest spark will insight an insatiable inferno,”Schlereth wrote.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth.”-REDSKINS-
ABOUT THE REDSKINS: Headquartered at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia, and owned by Daniel Snyder, the historic Washington Redskins Football Club has won five World Championship titles including the 1937 and 1942 National Football League Championship games, as well as Super Bowls XVII, XXII and XXVI. Founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves in Massachusetts, the team changed its name to the Redskins in 1933 and relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1937. Since then, the team has become one of the most recognizable professional sports franchises in history, featuring multiple Hall of Fame coaches, 19 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (with seven others who also were Redskins) and becoming the first team in the NFL with an official marching band and fight song, "Hail to the Redskins." The Redskins have been owned by Dan Snydersince 1999, and beginning in 1997, began playing their home games at FedExField in Landover, Md.