Is Acceptance a Big Deal in Pro Locker Rooms?
Nine-year NFL veteran Rocky Boiman played in four NFL locker rooms; Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Tennessee. Last week, he told me what it was like to walk in those locker rooms.
"It was a great experience. Racially, it was very good. I was lucky. Race relations were the best I've ever seen. All in good humor and nature. It never got to the extreme. Maybe it helped I was on good teams that went to AFC championships."
Boiman never saw any type of hazing while playing in the NFL. He played for Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards, Jeff Fisher, and Mike Tomlin.
"They weren't micro-manageable, and they set a system. They signed and drafted good guys. They brought in good people and set an environment that works its self out. Fisher was not going to all any of that hazing stuff. If you're not doing football stuff, then it was get out now. I 100% agree," tells Boiman.
Experiences can vary as a player, and Boiman was lucky to have a great NFL experience because he had great coaches that were also great leaders.
At the same time, there are times in organizations when leadership is lacking.
In Miami, Jonathan Martin was bullied and harassed by teammates Richie Incognito, John Jerry, Mike Pouncey, and an athletic trainer. Martin was targeted with racial slurs, racially derogated language, homophobic name-calling, and improper physical touching. Martin would leave the team as a result.
In a different situation, Missouri Tigers defensive lineman and NFL prospect Michael Sam was treated as a football player, and was not judged by his sexual orientation last fall. He publicly announced he was gay in February, but his teammates in college actually found out in August. He was fortunate to have his family at Missouri accept him for who he is, and allow him to focus on football.
Sam could become the NFL's first openly gay player, and he has still has big hurdles to climb. NFL players will have to learn to respect Sam, and he will have to have tough skin.
While there wasn't a good locker room presence in Miami for Martin, and Sam was blessed by his Missouri teammates and coaches, I believe for both of these guys, acceptance was huge. Both common in sports, and in life.
For me, I have never been the most athletic guy. I played soccer and basketball growing up in elementary and middle school. Middle school basketball provided a memorable memory for me. I was in the eighth grade when I was on the 'B' team. I didn't score any points all year, but in the last game when I got the ball, fans cheered for me to shoot the ball. Sometimes, I'd get nervous, and pass the ball. Finally in the fourth quarter, I had a wide open jumper. I nailed it. Everyone cheered my name. It was pretty cool.
When I got to high school, I went to basketball tryouts. I was cut my freshman year because I wasn't one of the biggest players. However, even though I wanted to play basketball, I didn't let it hold me back. I remembered the positive memories sports gave me, and took advantage of opportunities that led to my passion for sports journalism. Now, I have a few jobs in sports. I love recognizing athletes, and giving honor where it's due. I've found my acceptance by highlighting others talents and abilities.
I wanted to be an athlete, but I had different talents. Everybody does. As a society, in sports, and life, respect and encourage each other whether are an athlete, non-athlete, African-American, White, straight, gay, or have a disability.