A Real Stinky Locker Room!

Organizational culture Respect Teamwork


Key Point: You’ve likely heard about the bullying by Miami Dolphins football player Richie Incognito against someone who is supposed to be a teammate, fellow lineman Jonathan Martin. Incognito was allegedly so abusive that Martin walked out on the team, apparently overwhelmed and fed up by the continuous harassment . And journalistic research concludes that this is a repeat pattern of behavior for Incognito (see the timeline here). The locker room buzz was that Martin, a Stanford grad, was considered by both coaches and other players as less gung-ho than desired. His nickname was “Big Weirdo.” This somehow became license for Incognito, blindly encouraged by management, to exercise the motivational technique of bullying, including but not limited to leaving “inspirational” voicemails for Martin with repulsive name calling, including the “N word” to fire him up. Frankly, I find this situation disgusting and a failure in leadership at every level.

I’ve seen this in action myself. I played college football and in one year saw the locker room transition from positive leadership based on respect and good natured fun, to one dominated by mean spirited pranks and bullying. The cool guys in the constructive locker room demanded collegial respect and led by positive example. The so-called cool guys in the dysfunctional locker room fueled an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. What happened? In both cases the best players were the leaders establishing the locker room culture and the coaches knew it. The fact is that no one wants to really get on the bad side of negative leaders who like to roam locker rooms, hallways and offices like delinquent bull elephants. However, the time is right to open up the dialogue on this totally reprehensible behavior in schools and/or the workplace.

Incognito may be a decent football player but he is a lousy behaving human on the matter involving Martin. Today I’ve heard on sports talk shows some ridiculous rationalization for condoning his behavior. Some are even blaming Martin for being weak and not standing up to fight the bully. The real sad aspect is that Martin shouldn’t have to fight Incognito to be a real “man.” The leadership culture should be strong enough to recognize, stop and remove any behavior that disrespects another person. Anything attacking people is flat out wrong. And if harmful disrespectful behavior is coming from talented people, that is irrelevant. Bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of the source. Disrespectful people must change behavior or leave the group. Abuse is so insidiously destructive that the team will ultimately lose.

Already, stories are emerging how veterans on the Dolphins team force young players to pay for extravagant meals etc, running up restaurant tabs in the 10s of thousands of dollars, just to show who is “boss.” Some of this is condoned.

Former Jets linebacker Bart Scott tells ESPN radio, “I saw some reports about some of the big bills that some of the rookies get. You do that one time… Then for the rest of your career, it’s going to be done for you… I’ve never heard of a dude like this, ever.”

Keep in mind, Martin was no longer a rookie. The bullying will likely continue to escalate until it is finally weeded out. If I was the owner of the Dolphins, I would fire both the coach and general manger for being culpable, ignorant, or both. It’s no excuse they didn’t know what was going on. Their leadership responsibility is to “know.”

Even legendary coach, Mike Ditka tells Sportscenter, “if you see this happening, I don’t know how you can take it. There’s no place for it in sports or anything… I don’t know how this guy got this far in life.”  

Character Moves:

  1. Being good at getting results is no reason to keep on employing selfish, mean spirited, negative people. In the end, as proven by Incognito, these people destroy more than they build. Have the courage whether you are a team member or boss to demand the behavior stop and change.
  2. Expect leaders to demonstrate and insist on respect at every level. If not, they can’t be leaders. Make sure the expectations are clear and people can recognize unacceptable behavior. This is NOT being politically correct. There is a well-framed outline of minimum respect in the workplace. If people aren’t getting results, coach them by understanding, teaching and inspiring. Threatening and abusive motivation does not work in the long run. The respectful thing to do if people don’t get results after reasonable coaching and patience is to fire them, not abuse them.
  3. Be aware of your “locker room” culture. Is it positive, constructive and truly team building oriented? If not, you have a real problem. Have the courage to make the right decision and get rid of this person(s) that are negatively pulling others down. Even if they’re the “best players,” you and the culture will benefit in the long run. Beware of rationalization like… “He may treat other people badly but he gets results.” And even if you’re not the boss, show up and confront disrespectful behavior by anyone.

Positive locker room culture in The Triangle,