The story that has captured the attention of the sporting world today has focused on former Minnesota Vikings WR Randy Moss' alleged comments regarding a team dinner last Friday. According to the article, Moss made derogatory comments about the quality of the food provided to him, for free, from a local eatery. Most are incensed over the alleged treatment of the common man by one of the NFL's biggest stars. However you feel about the allegations, that part of all this is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.
I'm making this post to discuss the way this whole situation was handled by the players, the team, and the culture of silence by some teams of the NFL, as well as how others air grievances via the public.
Why do teams avoid some players? "Locker-room cancer" is a term thrown around heavily in this league. There are plenty who deserve it, for lots of reasons. Former Chiefs/Bengals/Redskins RB Larry Johnson gained this stigma with his off the field activities, getting into trouble with the law, and bringing it into the locker room on game days. He complained to the media often, both in press conferences and in radio/TV shows. Journeyman WR Terrell Owens has gained this stigma for his press conferences and sideline altercations with quarterbacks, coaches, and other members of the team. Those players are obvious locker room cancers, and in my mind, those players deserved to be treated as such.
Others have gained that stigma through information leaked from players and media outlets. Former Chargers WR Ryan Leaf gained a reputation as a locker room cancer because an altercation between players after a game. Chiefs DE/NT Shaun Smith was dropped from the Cleveland Browns in part because he gained this stigma after throwing a punch at then QB Brady Quinn. Jets RB LaDanian Tomlinson was largely considered a cancer because he reportedly treated his teammates as inferiors when with the Chargers (this was before his post-release comments). Now Moss has achieved this label for his reported locker room outbursts and complaints, both with the Raiders and most recently with the Vikings. What do all the players in this group share? An organization that doesn't practice a culture of silence.
Look at our very own Chiefs, and the franchise they are currently modeling themselves after: The New England Patriots. How often do we read headlines about these teams, their in-fighting, and their locker room cancers? Rarely to never. The reason isn't necessarily because these players are devoid of these actions. Anyone thinking that everything is all smiles and rainbows in any NFL locker room is naive. The reason is because these teams don't air their dirty laundry in public. Players come and go, but the end result is the same for these organizations: they deal with their own business in-house. The Pittsburgh Steelers are another of these organizations. The Steelers received two black eyes with the off-field actions of QB Ben Rothlesberger and former WR Santonio Holmes recently. That organization handled their operations in-house, without airing any more information than what was necessary to the public. There was no public argument, nor was there a public defacing of either player by the team. Instead, the Steelers took care of their team business and moved along.
This brings me to today's release of Moss' alleged comments. It's no secret that some members of the Vikings were not happy with Moss. He was brought in to try to be the ailment for a broken team, and he turned out not to be the cure-all that they were (maybe unfairly) hoping for. When the team continued to take a turn for the worse, the media had more and more stories discussing his work ethic and his ability to play with teammates. It now has culminated in his termination from the team and more information being released to "explain" the decision. The Vikings have successfully gotten rid of a player and a sizable contract without being tarnished, outside of a 3rd round draft pick originally given up for the player...or have they?
Have a look at the Minnesota Vikings. Who are the leaders on the team? Brett Favre? I think most would argue he's done more to divide the team than unite it this year. Jared Allen? I love the guy, but he doesn't exude leadership. Steve Hutchinson? I can get behind that, I suppose. Finally, Brad Childress? His actions over the past two months would indicate he's more of a figurehead than a coach, instead relinquishing decisions to Favre. The team as a whole is without a doubt a talented bunch, but they lack a group of stand-up leaders, and quite possibly the most important part: a culture of silence.
The Vikings are struggling, fighting to keep their collective heads above water, and they have been dealing with a quarterback's personal issues for most of the season. Their defense isn't as good as it was in previous years, and they are hampered by injuries. One of the early-season favorites for the Super Bowl is now in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs at the halfway mark of the season. The onus is on Brad Childress, Brett Favre, and the Vikings front office to remedy the situation. Instead, they've cut their high-profile signing 4 games after joining the team and made sure the world knew private, internal information. All of the sudden, the media isn't discussing the Vikings shortcomings or Brett Favre's alleged wrongdoings. Now, they look like an upstanding organization to the media and to the fans. They have surely accomplished that goal, but they may have sacrificed something in the long term: player trust.
A high-profile signing looking at the Vikings is going to remember this situation when evaluating the team. Who's to say they can't be candid with other members of the team? Who's to say they can't speak their minds in the locker room, or get into the occasional shouting match during the game without the team letting ESPN know all the gritty details? One of the game's best players had his name drug through the mud after a team cut him by an "unknown source", so who's to say another player's reputation might take a giant hit from the very same team as well? What did the Vikings really gain from the leak, outside of shifting the onus of "blame" or "bad person" from a player that is still with the team to a player recently cut? They could have very easily left the release of a player as simply that: a release of the player.
The culture of silence that certain teams instill pays off, there's no doubt. Perennial winners like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and New England have practiced this for years. It creates an easier environment for the players, and surely is a factor in the free agents not just looking for the big payday. The Chiefs have now instilled this culture, and we (the fans) perceive it as a cohesive unit: a team without locker-room issues or problems. I assure you, this is not the case. As with any competitive team sport, there will be altercations, and there will be issues. The fact that these altercations and issues do not leave the locker room just means they know how to keep it under wraps. When you hear complaints from players of these teams, it is almost always contract-related, which (like it or not) is just part of the business of the NFL.
Randy Moss may have said some inappropriate comments that may have offended players and/or people who are just trying to make a normal living. However, the media and the fans are treating him as a singular villain in a sea of worthy players. I'm sure many of these over-paid superstar players have made similar comments in meetings, in the confidence of their teammates and friends, yet we don't hear about them. In this situation, the Vikings have made him a scapegoat, and it has succeeded.
I'm just glad our Chiefs practice a culture of silence to avoid the media circus that follows the airing of dirty laundry.