ORLANDO, Fla. -- You won't find any of the following on the NFL's 2013-14 highlight film: a high profile player charged with murder. One player allegedly bullying another until the victim breaks down and leaves the team. An umpire suspended for making a profane and derogatory statement to a player during a game. Debate over whether the NFL's first openly gay player could be accepted.
None of it has escaped commissioner Roger Goodell. In past years, the keynote address for the NFL meetings has been delivered by Bill Clinton and Condeleezza Rice. This year, Goodell chose Dov Seidman, author of How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything. Seidman, an expert at fostering ethical cultures, addressed all in attendance Sunday night. On Monday, he spoke again to head coaches while Dr. Oz received second billing, addressing NFL spouses.
In his first speech, Seidman referenced a scene from the movie North Dallas Forty in which O.W. Shaddock, a player on the North Dallas Bulls played by John Matuszak, rails at his coach, "Every time I call it a game, you say it's a business," he said. "Every time I say it's a business, you call it a game!" Well, to Seidman, the NFL is neither. It's personal.
He asked those in attendance which behaviors they want from their players. The responses: Respect. Camaraderie. Loyalty. Accountability. Trust.
How do you get that? Not by using the traditional motivators of "carrots" or "sticks," according to Seidman. "You can only inspire that in people by enlisting them in some journey towards significance, what it really means to be a champion," he said. "If you want employees or players to show up, be obedient, play and do nothing else, you can do that with carrots and sticks. When we start to ask for human qualities from people -- be innovative, be collaborative, be vulnerable, get up from the table and sit with people not like you because we believe in the value of diversity -- we can't get it with the old mechanisms."
Rather than penalizing players for using racial slurs and putting a price like 15 yards on the n-word, Seidman thinks it would be more beneficial to create an environment in which respect and tolerance are expected. That means understanding racial slurs constitute shameful behavior, and also that employees who exhibit shameful behavior will no longer be employed. In the absence of such understanding, he believes penalizing disrespect and lack of sportsmanship is warranted, though not necessarily by using a list ofbanned words.
It will be up to owners, general managers and head coaches -- the people Seidman was addressing -- to affect this sort of change. Seidman says he has seen it elsewhere. "There is a renaissance going on in leadership," he said. "It's happening in military, in business and in sports."
A model for the new sports leadership, in Seidman's estimation, is Vicente del Bosque, the soccer manager who guided Spain to the 2010 World Cup after losing the first game. Bosque is known as a human relations expert who creates an ethos and then trusts his players. del Bosque once said, "I didn't really want to be the coach who wins but the coach who educates." His ideal as a coach is to "convince rather than impose."
Seidman also pointed out a trend -- all of the recent Super Bowls have been won by coaches who "connect and collaborate," rather than "command and control." Pete Carroll. John Harbaugh. Tom Coughlin twice. Mike McCarthy. Sean Payton. Mike Tomlin. Tony Dungy.
Coughlin, known as a taskmaster early is his career, is an example that change is possible. "Coach Coughlin went on a journey," Seidman said. "He started with an inward journey. He looked in the mirror and he [asked] who am I, what do I stand for?... The first thing people in charge are doing is going on a journey, saying, 'What do I think? What's my mindset? What are my habits?... How do I need to lead? How do I need to inspire that in my coaching staff?'"
After Seidman addressed the coaches, Ron Rivera of the Panthers approached him and asked him for his contact information. Rivera wants to bounce some more ideas off Seidman. As a player and coach, Rivera has been part of the NFL for 28 years. As well as anyone, he knows what the obstacles are. "The culture in the locker room is different from the rest of the world," he said. "I get that. I've been part of it. It's the same as it's always been. Guys do things differently. It's just the way they build this bond. But that doesn't make it right. We can't allow it to be something that's malicious. We have to police ourselves. And what we are learning is, from the time you get to be a head coach, you should have set down your standard of doing things."
There are times when setting down those standards and creating the right type of environment might not dovetail with getting immediate gratification. That is a problem for coaches that can be solved only by owners. "The hardest thing for the coaches is they are under pressure to win now and journeys seem long," Seidman said. "They know they need to be on a journey but they want to keep their job for the now. That's the tension they have… If we don't release coaches from this you win or you're out, it's going to be hard to do the deep work."
A lot of the talk has been about cleaning up the behavior in locker rooms. But Seidman believes it's bigger than that. He points out that many of the transgressions in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair occurred outside of a locker room. The locker room merely is a metaphor.
Some of those in attendance are only interested in hearing speeches given by themselves, so there may have been some yawns when Seidman was at the podium. Many in the NFL might not be ready to embrace the type of change he is promoting. Others might not be in tune with his way of conceptual thinking. But his words resonated with many others. "There are a lot of things you've seen in the past the way things have been done that can be changed," Chargers president and CEO Dean Spanos said. "What he said is inspiring. You have to really sit down and reflect on how you are going to implement some of this going forward. It's really good insight. It's not going to happen overnight. But you have to think about it."
In Seidman's view, the NFL does not need to patch cracks in the pavement so much as they need to look at new ways of building the sidewalks. "More and more people are realizing we are in a new world where the ability to survive and thrive depends on how you live values," he said. "The NFL gets that. I think the NFL also gets that this is deep work. This is not four or five programs, a little training and we are fully human. This is deep work. It's a journey. And all that matters on journey is progress."
This is how Goodell concluded his opening remarks at the meeting. "Let me leave you with one thought to guide us through the future. Respect; respect for our game and those that came before us. Respect for each other -- teams, opponents and game officials. Respect for our fans, our lifeblood. Respect in our workplaces for the diversity that makes us stronger. Respect for our communities and the important role we play in those communities. It's about the significance of being part of this, the shield. Let's embrace the opportunity to make a difference. We're expected to do that -- by our fans, our business partners and others. We can and we will. Let's go to work."
Those are good words. But words are only a start.