What if the 12th Man Could See in Every Locker Room?

Organizational culture Respect Teamwork


Key Point: Respect in every work place and school must be the minimum standard for winning. When my beloved Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, I was ecstatic. Part of Seattle’s success is attributed to the aptly dubbed “12th Man.” Those familiar with the NFL know that Seattle Seahawks fans are so loud and boisterous that they actually have an impact on the game’s outcome. They’ve literally caused small earthquakes. It is very difficult for opponents to win playing on Seattle’s home field. And their 12th Man also wildly appreciates the winning character of the team on the field. I trust and hope, based on the philosophy of Coach Pete Carroll, that if the 12th Man could see inside the Seahawks’ locker room, they would also cheer and applaud… (Just look how awesome the post-Super Bowl speech was)… They’d see that a culture of character, accountability, respect and abundance emanated from the inside out. Sports are entertainment, but one reason we connect with it so much is it reflects the stories that play out in our daily life and culture. In some ways, the 12th Man is a metaphor for all sports fans. Now, in contrast, we have an inside look in the Miami Dolphins football team locker room. And that inside look shows a primitive, shamefully disgusting workplace culture.

Even if you are not a football or sports fan, you are likely aware of the harassment case and the independent investigation on this matter conducted by the National Football League. All 144-pages of the full report were released last week and provide a spotlight on bullying, bigotry, discrimination, mental illness/wellness and complete leadership failure in the workplace. While the disgusting objectifying of women, and racial bigotry is enough to make one puke, add homophobic locker room insults into the mix and the toxic cocktail is complete. While the locker room isn’t an office or even a construction work environment, my belief is that it reflects the underbelly of our culture. And while the Miami’s situation may be extreme, we would be naive to discount this investigation as not being instructive for examining all other environments. Unfortunately elements of deep disrespect still exist in too many workplaces and schools. It is a leadership call to action. We have to up our game and in matters related to the workplace, we are not the just spectating. We are the players.

William C. Rhoden, a sports reporter for the New York Times wrote the following: “My first reaction to reading Ted Wells’ 144-page report on the Miami Dolphins harassment case was that Commissioner Roger Goodell should ensure that Richie Incognito never be allowed to play another down in the NFL. Incognito, the Dolphins’ suspended offensive lineman, was the ringleader and catalyst of a reign of terror directed primarily at his teammate Jonathan Martin for two seasons… The Wells report paints a graphic and vile portrait of an NFL locker room that may shock even those familiar with the often lowbrow culture of men’s team sports.” The report itself goes on to conclude: “The behavioral activity that occurred here was harmful to the players, the team and the league. It was inconsistent with a civilized workplace – even in a professional football league and even among tough football players whose very profession is defined by physical and mental domination of players across the line of scrimmage. There are lines – even in a football locker room -that should not be crossed, as they were here. We leave the determination of precisely whereat to draw those lines to those who spend their lives playing, coaching and managing the game of professional football.”

One of the additional and deeply troubling insights from the investigation is the all too common reaction of the individual being bullied. In this case, Jonathan Martin truly believed that Incognito was one of the players who had driven him from the team, but at the time, he blamed himself for leaving, feeling that he was simply too sensitive and that he was at fault for not stopping the abusive behavior. Martin struggles with depression and even contemplated suicide as a way out. He grew up in a loving, affluent, supportive home environment and yet felt ill equipped to deal with bullying from as far back as his time in middle school. Martin is a Stanford graduate and accomplished athlete, yet still haunted by feelings of shame and somehow being unworthy of respect. Everyone one of us deserves to live in a safe and respectful environment while being able to navigate forward when we’re not.

Character Moves:

  1. Ensure you know how to recognize respect/disrespect. Know your blind spots and areas of ignorance when it comes to acceptance and adaptation to other viewpoints. As an example: If you still think being gay is a “lifestyle” as recently stated publicly by two prominent sports casters, you likely have some personal work to do.
  2. Do you have the tools to intervene and stop bullying of yourself, or others? Or do you want to fit in or avoid it so you collude with the bullies? Get training on the skills/tools. Are you a leader by action? Do you still laugh at those jokes you know you shouldn’t? Why?
  3. Be part of a leadership movement to increase understanding, tolerance, compassion and love while having the courage to speak out and act against any type of abuse or bullying. Step up. Be accountable. Be respectful. Be abundant!

Better 12th person in The Triangle,


P.S. It isn’t just in sports. Check out the bold Feb. 17 headline from the front page of The Province, Vancouver B.C.’s most widely read paper: Racial Slurs, Sexual Innuendos, Bullying and Harassment… Inside West Vancouver’s Police force.