Notre Dame football: The locker room: What happens here, stays here

SBT Correspondent

Coaches want to protect their teams from outside distractions, to avoid any negative stories leaking, and to present a united front even if that is not the case.

From the time I played high school football under the Friday night lights to the national stage that Notre Dame provided, my teams carried this approach: "What happens here, what's said here, stays here when we leave here.”

For athletic teams all across the nation, the aforementioned quote is the norm.

Why is this important? The argument is that no one needs to know what goes on behind closed doors. No one needs to know what types of internal struggles might be raging, and that no one needs to know the actual stories opposed to those that are published. The recent situation in Miami involving Dolphins players Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito has made this a hot topic.

With more than 100 players on a roster, managing individual personalities is often difficult. Each person comes from a different background. With so many unique people on a team, it shouldn't be groundbreaking that some things that were said or done in the locker room would offend the majority. For those who have played collegiate or professional sports, it's part of the culture.

Football is a brutal game. From a very early age, we are taught to punish other players with physical force. Some of us were even taught to demean other players through trash talk as a means to get into the heads of the opposition. Winning the mental war, in some cases, can mean a victory on the scoreboard. It's the nature of the game.

Is it pretty? No. Is it right? Probably not. The culture in locker rooms is a culture that leaks on the field.

The locker room is a mixture of saints and sinners. People shouldn't be surprised that situations occur within the locker room. Turn on the TV. How often do you see a story about athletes breaking the law? These occurrences do not seem to surprise us.

Why do athletes act how they act? It's a feeling of invincibility or that someone owes you something. I can testify firsthand that I experienced this. Call it ego. Or call it a overcompensation of confidence. It is a necessary evil, for most athletes, to be successful on the field. The same mentally appears in locker rooms as well. Personalities collide and issues arise.

I remember as a freshman, leaving the small town of Marshall, Mich., and being very afraid of any hazing that would occur. However, it never did, at least not to the extent that I was fearing.

Even so, many of the older guys — who were the most outspoken — took advantage of their seniority and power to poke fun at younger players. Most of the time it was in good fun, but there were instances that bordered on bullying. Welcome to athletics. Welcome to society.

During fall camp each year, there was a "suicide watch" board. To preface, fall camp was mentally and physically excruciating. No one liked camp, but camp was especially hard on a select few guys each year. Players’ names were added to the board based on the overall mood and mental strength. Essentially, the board was a way to make light of a very tough time of the season, even though it was at the expense of certain teammates.

How much do coaches know? They know enough, but the locker room belongs to the players. No team wants to be spied on by their coaches. Coaches watch players enough on the field. They don't need to be listening to us in the locker room, too.

Don't misconstrue what I am saying — coaches do have ample understanding of what happens in the locker room, because they want to know what type of leadership and chemistry is developed. But there are team leaders for a reason.

I was fortunate enough to have had some great team leaders that stressed the importance of a healthy locker room environment. However, I also learned how not to lead based on the actions and words of a select group of "leaders." This goes to show that even "bad" people have the ability to lead. They might even be someone you follow into battle on the playing field, but it isn't necessarily someone you spend time with off the field.

"What happens here, what is said here, stays here when we leave here."

Maybe that's how it should always be. Address problems "here." Make comments "here," rather than taking them outside.

For the vast majority of teams, this works. Why? Because the leadership at the top of the program pays attention to the details. Hence the coaches, leaders and team follow suit. I do not condone poor behavior in the locker room, but it’s something that teams deal with regularly. Don't let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch.

Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.

Notre Dame players sing the Alma Mater following the Notre Dame vs. Navy football game on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP