Micah Rice: Locker rooms are their own work environments

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

If an office behaved like most locker rooms, everyone would be fired.

These inner sanctums of the sports world have been in the news a lot recently. First came the bullying among the Miami Dolphins. Next was whether an openly gay player would be accepted.

The discussion has recently turned to whether slurs should be banned, no matter what their context.

It begs the question: Could and should a locker room ever be just another work environment?

It's impossible to compare the athletes in a locker room to the worker bees in most offices. Can you imagine Richard Sherman spending eight hours a day in a cubicle?

The better correlation is with a corporate board room. Both are filled with hyper-competitive individuals at the top of their field. Both are driven by the bottom line, whether that's the win-loss record or the company's profit margin.

In both, discretions are overlooked as long as the bottom line is met.

And in both, chemistry matters. In professional and college sports, you consistently find that most successful teams have locker rooms where respect and professionalism come naturally, not because of some edict.

With apologies to human resources departments everywhere, those team-building exercises can't turn a jerk into a gentleman or a bully into a saint.

I remember walking into the Seattle Seahawks locker room shortly after a playoff victory over New Orleans. A rap where every phrase contained the N-word or a curse blared over the speakers.

Those trying to make locker rooms more politically correct would have plugged their ears, but it didn't matter to the Seahawks -- a team where guys from all backgrounds and cultures meshed.

Take Marshawn Lynch and Max Unger. One came from the rough streets of Oakland while the other attended a private school in Hawaii. Besides that locker room, they seemingly would have little in common.

Lynch, who hates doing interviews, wasn't saying much. So I asked Seattle's starting center about the running back.

"Marshawn is a guy you want to play harder for," Unger said. "Like most NFL players, he is pretty quirky. We all have our issues. But it's just about getting 53 dudes in the same room and winning games."

Locker room chemistry is also a reason the Portland Trail Blazers have superseded expectations this season.

Mo Williams and Earl Watson have played for a combined 12 NBA franchises over 25 seasons. They both say Portland's locker room gets along about as well as any they've been in.

"This team is just unique," Watson said earlier this season. "I can't compare it to any that I've been on as far as chemistry goes."

You can't legislate a locker room. But in the bottom-line business of sports, winning franchises usually have locker rooms where professionalism and respect rule.

That should be enough incentive for teams to uproot any bad seeds, not just cover them up.