Ken Belson's NYT article, No Foul Mouths on This Field: Football With A New Age Twist, offered encouraging insight into the changing culture of the Seattle Seahawk's, with the team's non-traditional approach to optimizing player performance. I appreciate and applaud the alternative approach described. While teams have proven innovative throughout the 95-year history of the NFL, such innovation has been largely represented via rule changes, training, equipment, offensive/defensive play schemes and game analysis. The coarse-tongued, coach-berating, check your emotions at the door culture of the league has largely remained intact. This approach, one exemplified by the current episodes of Hard Knocks on HBO, gives proof that old-school mentality is hardly considered outdated.
This mentality could also be described as an "ole boys" approach to the game. The numerous and scandalous occurrences of domestic abuse, drunk driving, PED suspensions, player bounties and the air pressure of balls continue to evidence an alpha-male culture that endorses violence, compensates egregious conduct in lieu of performance and often blurs the lines between right and wrong, good and bad, ethical and unethical. It is the latter demarcation that, despite the commendable effort involved, calls me to question the Seahawk's approach --- on one point in particular.
Belson's article explained how psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais, "a former competitive surfer turned human optimization specialist" is largely responsible for the altered atmosphere in Seattle. The success of Gervais' approach has other teams calling the Seahawk's, inquiring about the how-to's of replicating his model with their teams --- a compliment that should have Gervais riding a wave of success for some time to come.
Also revealed was that Gervais and head coach Pete Carroll have created a performance enhancement business called Win Forever. As a consulting firm, it seeks to instruct and advise other businesses, organizations and yes, teams about the non-traditional methodology employed by the Seahawks. As other NFL teams consider the Gervais/Carroll-Win Forever approach, a question begs me to call an audible. Isn't this a conflict of interest?
Understand that I have no specific knowledge of the Gervais inspired approach being used in Seattle, and forming the foundation of the Win Forever way of doing things. Neither do I have any purpose, intent or cause to impugn the integrity of either Dr. Gervais or Coach Carroll.
However, that a team's head coach and an "outside" advisor can form a business together based upon the very services that advisor offers to that head coach's team is ethically ambiguous, at best.
If Gervais and Carroll are motivated to build a business, then, as a practical matter, how much of their mental focus is directed towards laying a foundation for obtaining other consulting contracts while cultivating their curriculum in Seattle? Relative to fiscal governance, how much of every dollar generated by Gervais, via consulting provided through Win Forever, is leveraged as windfall for Carroll? How does this preserve objectivity? How does the general manager and head coach of another NFL team feel assured that an approach instructed by a competitor, is actually to the benefit of their team? Does this potentially compromise any proprietary concerns a competing team might have by letting Win Forever into its locker room? Onto its practice field? Inside the heads of its coaches and players?
What would be the implications of a head coach forming an injury rehabilitation company with the trainer or doctor employed by that coach's team to service that team's players? What would be the proprietary infringement concerns of other teams using this company for injury treatment of its players? If an agent represents several players on one team, would it be regarded as good business for that agent to form a business partnership with that team's general manager or head coach, for player representation?
The waters such considerations must swim in are frothy to murky. The Carroll-Gervais connection would do well to do well in Seattle. Such an aspiration would do better in a clearer pool of operation.
A final note: Carroll's commitment to diversity seems to be substantiated by Gervais, if one considers being a non-traditionalist as a barrier-breaking, category-busting distinction. I would urge that such a commitment consider diversity as an insistent opportunity to be more inclusive of individuals from truly different backgrounds, perspectives, personal experiences, cultural affiliations and even gender.
The fields of psychology, performance optimization, team building and leadership development are replete with female professionals. The old school mentality the NFL seeks to amend, and that Coach Carroll seeks to challenge could be altered even further by giving female advisors more earnest consideration. What could be more non-traditional than employing a woman in a male-dominated setting? With that asked, I likewise applaud the league for its hiring of Sarah Thomas as the NFL's first female official. Kudos also to the Arizona Cardinals for hiring Jen Welter as the league's first female coach. Hats off to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs for recognizing the prowess of Becky Hammon, too.