By Lauren Gaffney, NFL Media producer
Safe haven. Brotherhood. Fraternity. These are all words that players use when describing an NFL locker room.
It's a place that has been a sanctuary for players, a place that's off-limits to the rest of us. It's an environment where not only game plans are discussed, but also life issues. Outside of football, each player might be a father, a son, a husband or a friend. Yet when they come together, it creates a melting pot of people from different races and backgrounds.
In recent weeks, NFL Media's Andrea Kremer spoke to many players in an effort to lift the curtain of what happens behind closed locker-room doors. Ten of them shared their opinions on issues of racism, rookie hazing, bullying and whether a gay player would be accepted in the culture of the locker room.
"It's totally different from any other Fortune 500 company that you would ever be a part of," he said.
Inside a locker room, players can be found playing games such as ping-pong and bag toss. Partaking in friendly side bets is commonplace. You hear loud rap music, brash jokes and all types of vulgar language.
Many players said they experienced hazing during their rookie year (carrying equipment, bad haircuts or getting dumped into cold tubs), but the issue of bullying in the NFL made headlines in November because of the Miami Dolphins' locker room. The alleged scandal, which involved offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, painted a picture of what the culture of locker rooms is believed to be across the NFL.
Players said you must have a "thick skin" to survive everyday life on and off the field. But what is the line that separates boys being boys from bullying in the locker room? Many players who were interviewed agreed that it would have been best if the Dolphins' situation was kept "in house" and handled internally by those in the locker room.
While the NFL is still investigating the Dolphins' case, many in NFL front offices have asked how the culture of the locker room be changed. On Friday, Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about how a professional workplace environment will be the league's No. 1 priority this offseason, thus raising the issue of a legislated code of conduct for NFL players.
Some players have said they would do whatever they had to do if the NFL mandates locker-room rules, but Antonio Cromartie stated: "We don't need nobody trying to regulate anything that's in the locker room. We feel that if we have the right veteran guys on the football team that understand what we're trying to do, what we're trying to succeed and what we want to be, that we can control our own locker room."
"I've seen guys who have lost their job in the NFL and that's all they talked about, was the locker room," Burleson said. "It wasn't the plays. It wasn't the touchdowns. It wasn't even the money. It was the relationships that they built because they don't get that anywhere else."