Bill Belichick often gives long and thoughtful responses to questions asked by reporters. You usually don't hear that much about them because most of the media don't ask questions which lend themselves nicely to deep analysis or critical thought.
Give him a good question though, and you'll get a good answer. The issue which has swept up the NFL over the past week, and indeed even news outside the world of sports, has been the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin bullying saga. When asked about locker room culture and hazing, Belichick gave an answer that was detailed, measured and sensible, a rarity in a sports world which thrives on quick takes and sound bites.
“I don’t think I’ve really ever had that problem with a team. I think a lot of it is with the veteran players and how they handle their teammates in the locker room, but every once in a while, if you kind of see something going in a direction you don’t like, then as a coach you have to step in and do something,” he said. “There have been a couple of little minor things like that, a couple times during the course of my career, but really not too much.
“I think there is a certain element -- and [co-host] Christian [Fauria] can probably talk more on this -- when you’re part of a team there is always something that you sort of need to do as a rite of passage to be a part of that team. Whatever it is, whether it’s to get up at the beginning of a meeting and introduce yourself and tell everybody where you’re from, and what you like, something about your family. There are just things you need to do to become part of a group, and for the group to accept you. I just consider that part of being a team, part of joining a team. We’ve all done it.
“I think there’s that element, and then obviously there's another part of it that’s going too far. I’m not talking about that. But I’m talking about joining a team and following a tradition or doing something that helps you join the team and shows you’re doing what everybody else has done. That’s a part of being on a team. So I think there is some of that, but crossing the line where it becomes personal and offensive, that’s a whole different story. I haven’t witnessed or been around a lot of that. As I said, if anything really approached that, then I would try to step in and make sure it wasn’t being done in a counter-productive way. ...
“I really have a hard time with any kind of judgment on that [Miami situation] because I’m not there, and as Christian knows well, too, when you’re not in the locker room you don’t know how things are done in that environment -- what’s a joke, what’s serious, what the interactions are. I really think it’s hard for any of us who aren’t a member of that team to really pass a judgment on what was said, how it was taken, what was accepted, what wasn’t and all that.
"We’re all grown men. We’re all adults. It’s really about relationships, and if the relationship is not working, then somehow it’s up to the people involved in that relationship to either fix it or resolve it or terminate it, whatever it happens to be.
“I know there are a lot of opinions on the whole Miami thing, but I’m not one that has one, just because I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge or information about the situation to have an intelligent one.”
Belichick was asked if there was a need to state guidelines to players at the beginning of the season.
“I don’t know if there is a need to, but I do it,” he answered. “I definitely do it. I state certain guidelines, and as things come up during the year that I think need to be addressed as an entire team -- and I’m not saying talking to the players, I’m saying the coaches, myself, we’re talking all of us: ‘Here’s how we’re going to do things’ or ‘Here’s something that has come up, and here’s how we’re going to address it’ if it’s ‘We’re not going to have any more of this’ or ‘This is OK, or in the best interests of the team.’
“Now, a lot of times those conversations also come up with the captains, whether they bring them up first or I bring them up first. We all talk as captains and they are representatives of the players -- you can’t talk to all 53 guys, but they represent the players and will say ‘How do we feel about this? How do we feel about that?’ ...
“I’m fortunate. I’ve had a lot of great captains through my time here with the Patriots. Those guys are not only great players and great leaders and workers, but they also have a very good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for the group, for the team in the locker room. A lot of times they can see things that are potentially coming over the horizon that are better to address before they become a problem than after something happens and then there's hard feelings or maybe a misinterpretation of something. I think it’s definitely important to try to stay ahead of it, and I certainly bring that up at the beginning of the year, and on an as-needed basis during the course of the year.”
What is clear from Bill's great answer is that locker room culture starts at the top, with management and the coaching staff and then it works its way down to the captains and then to the rest of the team. Whatever break down happened in Miami (and how it ever got to that point is incredible) most likely won't happen in New England as long as Bill Belichick is coach, simply because he won't allow it to happen. He set guidelines and has had the foresight to chose some amazing character guys to be captains. This stuff may seem commonsense, but apparently commonsense escapes some NFL locker rooms.