While on the radio with G and his son last night, we touched upon the topic of good behavior on football teams.
The Patriots have seemingly thrown their character rules out the door with the Randy Moss trade and the drafting of safety Brandon Merriweather, who is on tape stomping on an opponent’s head last year in an on-field brawl. Commissioner Roger Goodell is putting the clamps down on poor behavior and rightfully so.
To look at it more deeply, what can teams do to prevent off-field player issues? Sure, some players (and people in general) are just bums; they’ll be in trouble no matter where they are. But can teams help to keep players in line by the environment they create? Absolutely they can.
The Eagles are a great example of doing the little things to create a culture that curbs poor behavior and fosters a winning mindset. Whether it’s a nice training facility, a shiny new stadium, a one-game-at-a-time approach or a business-like tone with the media, the Eagles have a winning environment that doesn’t include arrests. Terrell Owens wasn’t able to conform to this structure, and where is he now? Not in the 215 area code.
This is what’s known as “The Broken Windows Theory.” The Broken Windows Theory – which I learned from Malcom Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” – is based upon how you would behave in a neighborhood that is run down and full of busted up windows. You are much more likely to behave out of character and do something negative when there is the perception that there are no rules and no order. If you go to a friend’s house that is immaculate, you will probably get up and throw your empty soda can away. If you are hanging out at a friend’s apartment that is sloppy and messy, you’ll probably just leave the empty soda can on the table. The environment dictates that behavior.
And it really is the little things that create the environment. Success is in the details and the Eagles have that point hammered home. Speaking politely and succinctly to the media doesn’t make the offense score 34 points on a given Sunday. It is just one of the little things that contributes to the greater whole. A great example of this is that of the New York City subway system in the late 1980’s and early-mid 1990’s.
In the late ‘80’s and early into the next decade, the NYC subways were a total mess. The tunnels reeked of urine, there was graffiti everywhere, fare-jumpers were commonplace, and worst, the murder rate was insane (someone should look at this case study in Philly). So, Mayor Rudy Guiliani had police chief William Bratton do something about it. But how can you stop rampant murder?
NYC was now determined to clean the graffiti off of the subway cars. They’d send a tainted car out to be cleaned immediately. If artists tagged it up again, they’d send it right back to be cleaned. They sent the message that no matter how much spray paint you put on the cars, they were going to clean it. So, the graffiti artists eventually gave up and knocked it off.
But Bratton didn’t stop there; he assigned more and more police to the subway gates and cracked down on fare-jumping. If you wanted to ride the subway, you were going to have to pay your money. In turn, the gate jumping was reduced enormously.
And guess what happened? Pretty soon, the murder rate dropped. A ton. By cleaning the subway cars and beating the fare jumpers, they created an environment that wasn’t conducive to murder and violence. It was the little things that made the difference. Structure and order was perceived, and people behaved accordingly (for the most part, obviously).
And that really is what we have in the environment of the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid, Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner have created a culture where you simply must follow the rules and do what you are supposed to do. We even saw it in 2004 when T.O. was told of the rule that you have to wear shorts at minicamp. Not tights, shorts. It doesn’t seem like a big deal in and of itself, but it’s the creation of an atmosphere.
Apparently, there isn’t that atmosphere in Cincinnati. Michael Silver’s recent SI owner’s article that G commented on has a quote from Bengals owner Mike Brown saying “a lot of people thought Hitler was good in the beginning.” No wonder so many players have been arrested, their owner can’t even keep himself in line. And yes, I’m well aware that they have taken on a lot of people with attitude problems. But, a positive culture may have helped steer some of the problem children in a better direction.
Sure, jerks are going to be jerks whether they are in prison or Sesame Place. But, I think the Patriots are actually subscribing to The Broken Windows Theory in bringing in Moss and Merriweather. They are banking on the fact that these guys won’t act up in the positive, straight-laced New England environment. They better hope so.