It’s become prevalent at the beginning of the 2019 season that more and more NFL players are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to their situation, their happiness, and ultimately what city they’ll call home.
A couple of weeks ago, only hours after being destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens 59-10, it was reported by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that multiple Miami Dolphins players had contacted their agents and requested that they start working on a trade. The names weren’t immediately available, but we know now that Minkah Fitzpatrick - the No. 11 overall pick from the 2018 NFL draft - was one of them. He got what he wanted and was shipped off to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is currently doing it and it appears his days in Duval are numbered. Cowboys’ LB Taco Charlton, just days after taking to twitter to let his frustrations be known, tweeting “Free Me,” got his wish and was released on Thursday. It was nearly impossible to avoid the Antonio Brown saga in Oakland, and he, like Charlton, took to social media demanding the Raiders “Release Me” on Instagram just two days before their season opener.
These players aren’t the first to show their dissatisfaction with their current situation and if the first few weeks of 2019 are any indication, they most certainly won’t be the last. Players appear to not only have higher expectations for their employers, but are now demanding that those expectations be met, and not two or three years down the road.
It achieves the desired result for the players. Antonio Brown now finds himself on the New England Patriots, a team consistently primed for a Super Bowl run. But it’s a bad look for the organization, as it only highlights the dysfunction, and sometimes spills out of the locker room and onto the playing field as we saw in Jacksonville with Ramsey, who got into a scuffle with head coach Doug Marrone on the sideline last Sunday.
No coach hopes to find himself in a situation having to cope with, for starters, the unhappiness of one of their star players, but also the media whirlwind that comes with it. And having it happen after the onset of the season is exponentially worse than having to deal with these matters in the summer.
But coaches should be prepared for it. And Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay knows how he’d handle the situation should it arise.
The first thing is, you want to talk to the individual and get an understanding of where they’re coming from. Try to understand their perspective and make sure that you listen. Then, be able to give your perspective and try to come to a conclusion on what’s best for the team and for that individual. It always goes back to the communication. Easier said than done, but I think from a foundational standpoint, it’s just trying to have an understanding and really an empathy for each other. Then let’s come to a conclusion and once we make a decision, decision is final and we move forward accordingly.
A pair of key words stood out to me while reading this quote from McVay, which he provided to the media during Wednesday’s press conference — and they both spoke to his servant leadership. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is just as it sounds and involves putting others first. In 1970 Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term, wrote an essay titled “The Servant as Leader.” Per the Greenleaf organization’s website, a servant leader “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
It almost sounds as if it was written about Sean McVay, right?
There are many tenets of servant leadership, and two of the fundamental principles are listening and showing empathy, both of which McVay so effortlessly touched on in his response. Perhaps it’s for that reason, and a pair of other tenets — commitment to the growth of people and community building — that has players wanting to come to Los Angeles and not seek their way out of it.
So when you hear the phrase “We Not Me,” the culture-changing motto McVay instilled on day one, or when he sings the praises of his players and coaches while taking minimal credit for the team’s success, trust that it’s more than the articulate manner in which he speaks that has players buying what he’s selling. No, it’s his awareness (another tenet) and commitment to being a servant leader that makes him a coach that player’s respect, believe in, and are therefore committed to his culture of selflessness and success. He’s the reason they want to be in Los Angeles, and a key part of why it’s unlikely the Rams will be dealing with matters of a player demanding a trade/release any time in the near future.