How the Seattle Seahawks became the NFL’s most outspoken squad

Les Carpenter: Pete Carroll has spawned a squad culture practically unique in todays NFL, where speaking out is not just tolerated but encouraged

In an age of athlete activism the Seattle Seahawks might have the strongest voice of any team in professional athletics. You see this in the words of superstar cornerback Richard Sherman, who has defended 49 ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and used his platform to explosion the NFL for their player discipline policy or Thursday night football match. You hear it from receiver Doug Baldwin, who has compared this time in sports to the civil rights motion. And you feel it from linebacker Michael Bennett, who calls for athletes to speak out against injustice.

The women and the WNBA have really stood up for what they want and I think that its day for the NFL, Bennett told ESPN last summertime.

And while it is easier for players to speak on social issues in a city like Seattle that has a rich history of protest, the Seahawks who play the Rams on Thursday night have a culture different from many other sports franchises. Speaking out is not only tolerated, its actually encouraged. Like with all football teams this attitude comes from the coach, in this case Pete Carroll, who has told his players they should have sentiments outside of football and that those opinions should be heard.

Most NFL coach-and-fours are not like this. In fact, virtually no NFL coach is like this. Civil dissent is a distraction and coach-and-fours dread distractions. They think distractions will lead to losses. They favor the conversations in their locker rooms to be about football. They groan when players go off script in interviews and start talking about things that will draw more cameras and more interviews. They want their squads to be bubbles of concentration. Merely football. Nothing else.

Its a freshening change from coach-and-fours who control the players like widgets, says Danny ONeil, a radio host on Seattles ESPN radio station and who once encompassed Carroll for the Seattle Hour. I guess Pete gets the most out of a player where reference is coaches the whole player.

A few years ago , not long after he took over the Seahawks, Carroll had dinner in Los Angeles with Michael Gervais, an accomplished performance psychologist. Gervais had worked with everyone from upper-class athletes to top business executives, but the coach-and-four wanted Gervais to see what he was doing with the Seahawks and wondered if there was something he could bring to the team.

His culture was so different than any other professional squad I had ever seen, Gervais says by phone from his office in California. Other coaches on the team came up to me and said: Have you been around any other clubs because this is different. One said: I can be me, its so great.

What Gervais realized is that Carroll failed in head coaching jobs at New England and with the Planes had figured out a route to motivate players in his ensuing years at USC. He understood ways to push them without humiliating them or ruling by anxiety. He wanted them to compete for everything every day, fighting for jobs and then playing day, but he did it in a manner that ran opposite to the philosophies of other head coaches.

If you want people to be their very best, try to develop their mind, Gervais says.

Part of that was encouraging them to speak about issues important to them. When Gervais spoke with players and later heard them in interviews, he was taken aback when he heard them talking here Carroll allowing them to speak out on social conflicts. They had been so indoctrinated in the old doctrines of coaches in college and the pros telling them to maintain such sentiments silent that they looked at Carrolls urge to be vocal as some kind of paternal patronage rather than an invitation to grow themselves.

Allowing is not the right word, Gervais says. Its a deep, deep is committed to figure out who they are and celebrate it.

Once players can celebrate themselves as people, they can appreciate themselves as athletes. They will have more energy and focus and determination And they will be able to compete.

The hope is that we never reduce somebody to simply a doer, Gervais says. We want them to feel as if they are full humans and they have a meaningful purpose in their life. We want to amplify that in the most human style possible. Its not easy because that is what the media does not want to hear or the public might not want to hear.

And yet Carroll, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, does not push a political doctrine on his players. Merely because they are encouraged to speak out on issues doesnt mean they have to take up causes that would be considered more liberal than conservative. His bigger challenge to them, Gervais says, is to have an authenticity in their relationships with one another, feeling free to debate differences in notions to grow closer.

There is a calling for a deeper experience together that would create a broader base, he says.

And with 68 wins and a Super Bowl championship in less than seven full seasons, it seems a free-speaking culture other coach-and-fours should want to emulate … if merely they understood that motive doesnt always come under an iron fist.

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