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Seal of the inner sanctum ruptured

Locker-rooms will never be the same

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As dramatic a change as we've seen in concussion protocol over the past few years, change to the locker-room environment is expected to be just as severe, if not more pronounced, in pro football going forward.

The latest in the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito fiasco has Incognito checking himself into a psychiatric unit after the release of Ted Wells' 144-page report last Thursday.

The report named Incognito, along with a couple of other players, as the faces behind a pattern of harassment towards Martin. Whether Incognito is seeking professional help because of the stress he has incurred, or as a precursor to levying his own lawsuit is not the point. The point is, locker-rooms in every professional sport have seen their last days as an orgy of political incorrectness and vulgarity.

Anyone that has played the game in the last decade can attest to how this environment has already begun to change dramatically.

During my freshman year at Simon Fraser University, in between two-a-day practices at lunchtime, was when the hazing and bullying began for us. Whether it was the seniors yelling for "Seagulls" to pick up the watermelon rinds and trash they had thrown on the floor, as we ran around squawking and flapping our arms, or how they would march us around campus and stop traffic so we could cross the road while duck walking and leapfrogging, these kind of behaviours were already on their last legs and were almost entirely obsolete in the late '90s.

Therapist

These days, you would be hard pressed to get away with having a rookie member of your football team sing a song if he didn't want to. Any activities that have the potential for legal repercussions are now extinct. Even the days of your local neighbourhood ball club supplying the beer in the locker-room after a victory have been ended because of culpability.

As the game has changed and evolved, so have the sensitivities and expectations of the people in it.

That being said, though, as evidenced by the accusations in the Martin/Incognito report, this Old Boys club still has a long ways to go in some circles.

What happened to Martin was not novel or unprecedented in professional locker-rooms, it just had never been exposed before. Depending on your perspective and tolerance for the inner workings of a locker-room, Martin is either a hero or a coward. And now owners are aware of how locker-room harassment can result in prime time exposure, there will be measures implemented to monitor all future conflicts.

Things behind the scenes in pro sports are constantly changing. Not so much because of an evolution of camaraderie and respect, but because words, actions and behaviours are now more accessible and instantly recordable. High-profile athletes are coming to realize every text message they send can be used to condemn them, and the devices of social media are all the proof anyone needs in the court of public opinion.

Strangely enough, the most interesting part of this unearthing of football culture is how, almost to a man, when players retire, they still say the locker-room is the aspect they will miss the most. For as much as this environment has its share and ugly sides of harassment, bullying and crudeness, it is also where some of the strongest friendships are forged and where moments of pure hilarity and elation are experienced.

Never before have we heard of a 300-plus pound behemoth in the trenches of pro football go public with accusations of impropriety, and ask for help with their mental-health state because of locker-room hostilities. The seal of this inner sanctum has been broken and exposed for all to see, and behaviours that have been accepted for decades are now being expunged.

If the locker-room is the office of professional athletes, there are still miles of changes to be incurred before it resembles the sanitized workplace most people are accustomed to.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2014 D6

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