Note: This is the 4th installment of the series “Why I Failed” by Travis Smith, former starting infielder at Assumption College.
If you’ve been following this series up to this point, you know that I’ve been recounting some of the mistakes I made during my baseball career. It’s my belief that these mistakes prevented me from reaching my goal of becoming a professional baseball player, and the hope is that you’ll use my hindsight to avoid the same pitfalls.
For this week, I’d like to take a step back and focus on something far more important than athletic performance.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Miami Dolphins current issues, centering around the alleged bullying of Jonathan Martin by his teammates, Richie Incognito in particular. While I don’t want to dig too deeply into the specifics of the case, because it is still such a fluid situation with so many unanswered questions, I do think there is an immediate lesson to be learned from the situation.
Much of the Dolphins’ problems are being viewed through a lens of “locker room culture.” This is an amorphous concept to most, and if you listen to how NFL players speak about it, something that no one aside from NFL players can understand. They frequently cite a certain dynamic that exists inside the room, a brotherhood that can’t be understood by outside parties.
This, I think, is the important lesson here; there is no such thing as a prevailing “locker room culture.” Just like the physical elements of each locker room are different, so too is the culture inside of it.
The Dolphins had an unhealthy locker room culture. It’s important you don’t let this happen inside your locker room.
Andrew, Chad, and the other contributors to Show Me Strength constantly talk about being the “Alpha,” and the relentless pursuit of testosterone. It is vitally important to remember that these are not isolated concepts; all the testosterone in the world won’t prevent anyone from being a good person who cares about the well being of their teammates.
Put yourself inside your locker room right now. Let’s say there are 35 people in there. You may play as a team, under one name, but there are still 35 different personalities in that room. That’s 70 parents. 35 different hometowns. Hundreds of different teachers and coaches. Any attempt to apply one personality archetype to the group is going to fail.
Some teammates are going to be tougher than others. Some are going to be quieter than others, some more out-going than others. A true Alpha, a true silverback, as Andrew calls it, doesn’t see difference as a sign of weakness. He sees it as an inevitable component of a team, no less tangible than different batting stances.
The problems with the Dolphins arose because Jonathan Martin had a perceived “weakness.” He was different from the rest of his teammates in some way, and for some reason his difference stood out amongst all the other differences in that locker room. Because the team apparently lacked a true leader in their locker room, a true Alpha Male, Martin was exposed to enough bullying that he no longer felt safe playing for the team.
While I think it is the least important part of the story, and abundantly less important than Martin’s mental health and well being, the Dolphins lost an excellent football player on the field because of the culture they harbored in their locker room.
It is often said, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and I think that is true inside a locker room with one important caveat; only a positive tide will lift all boats. A sense of unity, the feeling of shared struggles and shared accomplishments will make every person in the locker room a better player, and more importantly, a better person. It sounds simplistic, but people, despite their differences, generally respond to positivity in a positive manner.
On the other hand, a tide of negativity will lift some boats, but sink many more. And that negativity can have ramifications that extend far beyond the playing field.
Some players will perform better after they’re criticized, and can use perceived slights against them as motivation to play better. Is it possible that a different personality, exposed to the same alleged bullying Martin experienced, could have used that anger and hurt to motivate himself on the practice field? Sure. Should his teammates subordinate that player’s mental health to his athletic performance? Absolutely not.
Be a true leader, be a true Alpha. By inspiring a sense of caring, kindness, safety, and unity inside your locker room, you will make the entire team better.
More importantly, you will be a good person.
I did not become a professional baseball player, but in this regard, I am proud to say I succeeded.