clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An NFL locker room is not a hive

You know those reports about "alienated" or divided locker rooms? Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White explains why you should read those stories with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Patrick Smith

There are so many things different about today's NFL players compared to how it was back when I was playing, and not always in a good way. Sometimes when I read unflattering stories about players and their antics, I feel like the cranky old man yelling, "GET OFF MAH LAWN!!!!" But the biggest pet peeve I have about these youngins is players tell the public business that should be left in the locker room.

The locker room is supposed to be our domain. What happened there was supposed to stay there long before Vegas came up with that slogan. Whether there was fighting or discontent, it all stayed inside those walls because it wasn't anybody else's damn business. If anything did get out, then it had better be one player speaking for themselves; otherwise, violence and bodily harm might well have befallen that guy.

Nowadays, you hear allllllllll kinds of shit about how everybody on the team allegedly feels about everything and it is supposedly coming from anonymous players as sources. Trust is a big part of why good teams are good, and most bad teams sometimes have trust issues in their locker room.

With 53 different guys on the team, some of them will see things differently from others.

However, when you do read these reports about discontent or rifts dividing a team, you have to understand just how diverse NFL locker rooms are.

I'm not talking about just being racially diverse, but also diverse backgrounds and points of views all brought together by football. Hell, there's always some teammates where just about the only thing y'all have in common is football. If you really think NFL locker rooms can easily come to an overwhelming consensus given all those different personalities and backgrounds, then you really have no idea what an NFL locker room is.

Random report says that coach "lost the locker room." Another report says this player "isn't well liked by his teammates." Just about every report you read along those lines are mostly horseshit. Why? Because no one, two, three or 10 guys speak for the whole damn locker room. Usually, you can't find one or two who can even be the voice of the majority. It's not like we go around polling each other every day about how we feel about the damn coach or the starting quarterback. So how would one guy know for sure exactly how the majority of his teammates felt about them? Simply put, they wouldn't.

That's not to say there isn't any value at all in these reports coming out, but you have to take it all with a grain of salt. The only thing you can know for sure is at least one player feels that way, and maybe one player feeling that way is enough to be concerned. However, you should never assume that everyone else on the team feels that way just because he does.

A lot of my skepticism on this subject comes from the fact that I read stuff in the papers back when I was playing that supposedly shed light on the mood in our locker room, but was totally made up and erroneous. I'm talking good and bad reports. But the fans ate that shit up! That let me see that even without any evidence at all, people believe just about anything reported on what's going on in the locker room.

I'm going to give you a brief example. One of the coaches I played for had a public perception of being this great motivator. Our team got off to a slow start one season and all of a sudden he was on the hotseat. Out of the blue, he gives this animated press conference and subsequently the team goes on a roll, wins the division, makes the playoffs and wins a playoff game at home.

Just about every media outlet covering the team made it seem like the players rallied around the head coach primarily because of that presser. Most of our success was attributed to that. The truth is that a lot of us had so many problems with the coaching staff behind the scenes. If anything, we rallied around each other because we were tired of getting conflicting instructions during the week from them and then getting blamed when there was a screw up in the game.

A group of us would sit up and laugh at some of the stories we would read that made the coach out to be our King Leonidas. And to this day that is the narrative a lot of people still believe about his tenure as head coach.

I can't say for sure that there weren't some guys on the team that felt like the head coach was a great motivator. With 53 different guys on the team, some of them will see things differently from others. Because we meet in separate rooms at times and watch different tape, it would be close to impossible for all of us to have the same perspective anyway.

In my experience you will see some big divides at times when it comes to opinions of guys who play different sides of the ball. Sometimes there is a regional divide on an issue based on where those players are from and grew up. And literally anything could turn into a heated debate. Hell, you should've seen some of the contentious NFLPA meetings we had back in the day, and the union was supposed to be something that brought us together to fight for the same goals.

But you want to convince me that your one or two "sources" have the pulse of the whole damn team or at least majority of the team and how they feel about their head coach ...


As for the fans of those kinds of stories, look, I know everybody is into reality TV, gossip blogs, etc., and most of these "locker room" stories have a lot of juicy details and stuff in them. However, please don't just take any of it as the God's honest truth. Odds are the situation is a lot more complicated than whatever you find in that story and I can pretty much promise you that nobody speaks for a whole team when it comes to putting forth what "the locker room" thinks or how it feels