The past week around the NFL as certainly opened up some eyes as to how a locker room often works. Players have some tough decisions to face on a daily basis, and we may be seeing the beginnings of a shift in the culture in locker rooms all around the league.
Sure, we could talk about Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dolphins or the Richie Incognito’s of the league—the old adage that you can’t win with choir boys comes to mind—but I’m not interested in discussing that.
The dynamics of a locker room varies from not only team to team, but also from person to person. Whether the Martin situation brings about new policies regarding hazing or locker room antics, it will not signal a fundamental shift in the way a professional sports team locker room functions.
No, the story this week that I took more away from was that of offensive lineman John Moffitt and his decision to step away from the game.
Though he spoke adamantly of not wanting to be the poster boy for concussion-awareness in the modern age of the NFL, he also expressed his thoughts passionately about what it takes to know that you are sacrificing your body and your mental health later on in life in order to play this game.
I just really thought about it and decided I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all…And I think it’s really madness to risk your body, risk your well-being and risk your happiness for money…Once you tear away all the illusions of it, it’s hard work. And it’s dangerous work. And you’re away from your family. And it’s not good for families. It’s very tough on families.
The NFL as it currently stands faces an interesting dynamic. With its monolithic stature, it has the power to instantly transform players into millionaires overnight, yet at the same time, those same players are increasingly becoming more and more aware of the risks that they face earning that money.
Which leads me to wonder about the future of the average NFL career, even for the great players.
Will we see more John Moffitts as time goes on? Will this type of decision become commonplace around the league in the not too distant future? Players must decide what is best for them, and in the long run, a shorter career may lead to a happier and healthier existence late in life. Such a shift would shorten careers—for the greater good of player health.
The next generation of NFL players will have grown up in the era of the player safety initiative. Athletes in the model of Hines Ward and James Harrison are already the dinosaurs of the league. As we push forward in time, players will be taught to play a different way, will be educated about head injuries and their long-term effects. But the money will still be there.
Knowing what they know, will this next generation of football players be more conscientious of their long-term future like John Moffitt? If so, it could fundamentally alter the way teams are managed, adding in the risk/reward factor of signing players to long-term contracts. Guaranteed money spread into later seasons will be doled out far more cautiously.
The NFL will never create a game that is not violent. The league will never legislate concussions out of the game. Football will always be an inherently dangerous occupation. But the athletes playing the game will be inheriting a slowly evolving culture, and the decisions that they make could lead to a paradigm shift at the managerial level of the game.