Carroll’s coaching style template for NFL regarding gay issue

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comFebruary 11, 2014 

Surely the result of listening to so many Pete Carroll press conferences the past four years, sometimes I find his comments echoing during everyday situations.

Get to checkout at the grocery, scan for the shortest line, and then see if there’s someone in a different line that I can beat to the exit.

Always compete.

At the coffee shop on Thursday morning, hmm, what pastry to buy? Yes, it’s Turnover Thursday … apple turnover it is.

Some of Carroll’s recent comments seemed relevant Sunday upon hearing the announcement by Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam that he is gay.

As the co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, he’s a likely draft pick and will be joining the National Football League as the first openly gay player on a roster.

Initial response has been supportive of Sam. Perhaps the greatest practical impact was the league-issued statement in admiration of his “honesty and courage.”

It added: “We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

Coming from the league office, it sounded a great deal like marching orders for teams, management and players. In other words: The NFL strongly expects you to be welcoming and supportive.

Several times within the past month, as the Seahawks marched

to their first Super Bowl win, reporters have asked Carroll about his philosophical approach to coaching that, at least in part, fosters success on the field.

A national reporter told Carroll that Seahawks players said they appreciate his willingness to “let them be themselves.”

Carroll politely corrected the reporter with a critical nuance.

“We don’t let them be themselves, we celebrate them being themselves,” Carroll said. “We cheerlead for them to be themselves, and we try to bring out the very best that they have to offer. … That’s kind of how we operate. It may sound different to you, but that’s how we do it.”

Asked to elaborate, Carroll stressed pragmatism rather than altruism.

“I’m trying to help our team be great and play great football and do this game the way we’re supposed to do it. I don’t want to miss out on somebody because maybe they’re not like me. … I’m OK with that.”

It’s an approach that works. Football is a business where you earn your place. And it applies to Michael Sam.

“I’m just trying to figure out where they fit in, and if they can help us,” Carroll said of his players. “I look at it more competitively than I do (as being) open-minded.”

Locker rooms are not customarily a place of gentility. Not everybody gets along, and some are not always sensitive and tactful in their expression.

But, likewise, there is rarely unanimity in any family — and that’s what good teams are. Families usually find ways to work things out.

It is reflective of changing expectations that boorish behavior and homophobic comments by Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito earned him suspension and stigma.

Incognito reportedly tweeted in regard to Sam: “I wish you nothing but the best.” Perhaps it’s an attempt at rehabbing his reputation. Maybe it’s symbolic of changing attitudes at their roots.

Here’s what teammates really like: Somebody who can help them win games.

If Sam can rush the passer in the NFL the way he did in college, he’ll be valued.

It’s not going to be easy; there will be comments and conflict. But a couple of indicators suggest that Sam is the person who can make this work.

 • He told his Missouri coaching staff and teammates about his personal inclinations last summer, and all respected and preserved his privacy.

 • At the end of the season, his teammates voted him their Most Valuable Player. That probably makes a comment more relevant about Sam than anything that the public or media can offer.

The success that Carroll and the Seahawks have had recognizing and embracing the differences among players — as people — shows it’s an attitude and approach that works in the contemporary NFL.

Teams are comprised of individuals. They don’t allow it; they celebrate it.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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