There is, of course, their decision to cut Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco, formerly Chad Johnson). I will just out myself here as someone who has generally been a big fan of Chad in his various incarnations. Picking apart my feelings about Johnson’s recent trouble with the law (his wife of 2 months accused him of head-butting her in their car while they were having an argument over a receipt for condoms she found) is not an easy thing. I will only say that professional athletes assaulting their girlfriends and wives is nothing new. What’s new is getting cut from the team for it. Generally, acts of domestic violence go unpunished by the NFL, MLB and the NBA.
But maybe Johnson didn’t get cut for getting in trouble with the law or allegedly head-butting his wife. If you watched the scene on Hard Knocks where Joe Philbin “explains” to Chad Johnson why he’s being cut, you can let me know if you understand exactly what his reasoning was. Because he said “fuck” in a conversation with the press? I don’t know if I’ve understood anything Joe Philbin has “explained” on the series so far. I do know that he really doesn’t like it when players leave their shoes untied.
This is Coach Philbin’s first year as an NFL coach, so perhaps we should cut him some slack. I find it uncomfortable to watch him interact with the players, which probably means he’s finding it pretty uncomfortable, too. He reminds me a of new professor, fresh out of graduate school, walking into the classroom for the first time. You’re not really sure that you deserve to be there, and it makes you deeply insecure.
But this year’s Hard Knocks has me thinking a lot about what the relationship between an NFL coach and his players (and as far as I can tell, it will always be a him coaching in the NFL) should be. Should a veteran like Reggie Bush have to call Joe Philbin “sir”? Should any of the players?
Maybe this is just cultural. I admit, I’ve never been real comfortable with the whole “sir” and “ma’am” thing on either end of the equation. I didn’t grow up calling people “sir” or “ma’am,” and I don’t really like it when people call me “ma’am” now. Not because it implies age, but because it implies an enforced hierarchy. In my own particular pedagogy, I have some authority over my students. But our classroom will only work if we feel like it’s a group effort rather than a one-woman show. Shouldn’t football teams work the same way?
The Belichick school of coaching
In the latest episode of Hard Knocks, three players–Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Jake Long–ask to meet with Philbin to talk about Chad Johnson, but not really about Chad Johnson. From what I could tell, they seemed to perhaps want to know exactly what it was that got Chad cut, probably so they could themselves avoid making the same mistake. They suggest, oh so deferentially, that the best people to motivate players are other players.
So let me just come out and say it: Joe Philbin’s team looks paternalistic in a way that none of the other teams have looked on Hard Knocks. And I think in the end they’ll lose because of it. Another incredibly boring NFL coach is Bill Belichick. I mean, really boring. Watching the hour long NFL documentary about Belichick was largely like watching paint dry. Both Belichick and Philbin may be boring, but you can see that Belichick treats his players quite differently. He’s not particularly nicer, nor does he pretend to be one of them. But he treats them like men, like professionals. Here is what I expect of you, and you will either do it, or you will be gone. If Belichick’s players call him “sir,” it’s out of a genuine and well-earned respect.
I’ve heard NFL commentators, some of them former players, argue that you can’t really treat your players like men. Not all NFL players are professionals who will show up and do the job. Neither are all college professors, or all INSERT THE JOB OF YOUR CHOICE HERE. Is the solution to condescend to those who don’t carry their load, or to treat people in a way that is consistent with how you would like them to be? As a sociologist, my answer is clearly the latter. The way we are treated shapes who we become. If you treat people like children, they will surely act like children. I feel certain Coach Philbin will be learning that the hard way this season.