HR Lessons From the NFL

HR Lessons From the NFL

So, lately, the NFL has been in the news about an incident which is still unfolding with the Miami Dolphins.  For the time being, this incident is centering around a couple of players – Johnathon Martin and Richie Incognito. The accusations range from bullying to racial discrimination to hazing and so on.  Moving away from the unreality of the NFL and to the mundane workplaces of yours and mine, most of us in HR would refer to the incident of the Dolphins players simply as unacceptable employee  behavior – and we would have to deal with it.

To be brutally honest, this kind of thing goes on day in and day out  in workplaces across the country, perhaps not at the level that has been reported with the Dolphins.   So this shouldn’t be a shock to think that this is going on in the NFL.  Those of us who must deal with this, day in and day out, do the best we can. We try to be proactive when we can, but just like the Dolphins, we must deal with these problems as these things present themselves. It is never pretty, but in the trenches we do what we can when we can.

When I hear the commentators on television and radio expressing shock and righteous indignation about this incident, I wonder this. Have I just come to accept the fact that this stuff goes on in the workplace, or is the media trying to get maximum gain out of this matter? The NFL is about largess – it is largess on steroids – literally.  The only players that are remotely considered for the NFL come from the biggest, strongest, meanest, fastest, most intense of the college football ranks; the small end of the recruiting funnel.  Then we bring this group of freakishly talented giants together, men who have spent their entire lives preparing to be combatants at this level and they are not nice to one another. Hmm, go figure.

I am still trying to figure out how the NFL even operates as an employer in light of the OSHA General Duty Clause,

 Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees

Are concussions not  serious physical harm?  In the past, OSHA has cited employers under the General Duty clause because employees were reporting high incidences of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Looking at an organization like the NFL should bring some comfort to those of us out in the HR trenches doing what we do in our organizations, if they are not so good, we are not so bad either.  Although we know that there are going to continue to be bullies, the teasing of the new employee,  the unwanted or unappreciated comments, we must persevere.  The countless harassment training sessions, the disciplinary action against the employee that goes too far, the supervisor training, it all needs to continue, HR doing our job. It is our obligation to our organizations and our co-workers.

The reason is this. If  HR does not try to keep a lid on these rouge employees, the aberrant behavior will  continue and grow. It will then impact people in your organization in a negative way.  And while you may not end up with the national media attention that the NFL and the Dolphins have received, it IS going affect people’s lives, and not in a good way.  The HR department can’t keep it from happening, but we can try to prevent it and smack down the cement heads that continue to exhibit this behavior.  This is our responsibility.  I know that by doing so for my organization this allows me to sleep at night.

It will be interesting to see how this ugly story ends, and how the public relations experts spin it.  Nonetheless, it is a reminder that the work we do is important and necessary.

Ok, I am getting down off the soap box, as it is time to get back to the HR trenches and improve employee performance!

Dave Ryan


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