Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Who Polices Locker Rooms? Usually Not the Coach ; Facing Multitude of Tasks, They Must Rely on Players to Maintain the Order

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Who Polices Locker Rooms? Usually Not the Coach ; Facing Multitude of Tasks, They Must Rely on Players to Maintain the Order

Article excerpt

N.F.L. coaches, who are judged by wins and losses and are busy doing a multitude of tasks, by and large let their players dictate the locker room culture.

When Joe Philbin told reporters on Monday that he was in charge of the Miami Dolphins' workplace, he was no doubt referring to his role as the team's coach. But the allegations involving bullying on Philbin's team raise many nuanced questions about how much control National Football League coaches have over their players and their behavior.

Former and current players, coaches and general managers insist that every team is an unpredictable and fragile stew of ambition, ego and experience, and that no two locker rooms are the same. Winning teams can splinter because of an outsize personality or two. Weaker teams can outperform expectations when players put aside their agendas.

But by and large, N.F.L. coaches let their players, and especially their seasoned veterans, maintain harmony in the locker room. In the crudest sense, they are hired to build a winning team, and as long as players do their jobs well, what happens elsewhere is largely immaterial. Instead of monitoring locker room behavior, coaches, who are judged by wins and losses, are generally too busy reviewing video, poring over statistics and juggling a multitude of other tasks.

"Coaches could care less about what happens in the locker room because they have a job to do and we have a job to do," said Trevor Pryce, a defensive end who played 14 years for the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. "We play for the highest bidder. Allegiances are very temporary. To some extent, the inmates run the asylum. The coaches have a lot of other things to deal with."

Pryce added that not all coaches were the same. Those who have been in the league a long time tend to have more of a grip on the locker room, he said, than younger, first-time coaches.

On Sunday, the Dolphins suspended guard Richie Incognito amid allegations that he bullied Jonathan Martin, his teammate on the offensive line who left the team last week and has not returned. Philbin, a second-year coach, said he was unaware of Martin's concerns about Incognito, who has a history of rough behavior.

Officially, the league, its teams and the players union adamantly oppose any form of bullying. Like any employer, teams are responsible for the welfare of their employees and conduct in the workplace, including locker rooms. The league has an Excellence in Workplace Conduct program that presumes "that all N.F.L. players and prospective players have the right to work in a positive environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

The league's personal conduct policy notes that N.F.L. players are "held to a higher standard" and are expected to act in a way that "promotes the values upon which the league is based. …

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