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It’s that time of the year again, when diehard football fans anxiously await the start of the new NFL season. This off season has been particularly interesting. Yes, because of the lockout but more so because of the ‘shuffling’ of players and coaches around the league. One in particular caught my eye and has me wondering if it was a sound business decision or not. It appears that the New England Patriots have bought themselves a “peck of trouble” when they signed both Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. It is not unlike what I saw in my former clinical practice where a person would marry an alcoholic with the sincere belief that he/she could reform the other. Not that it can’t be done, but it is in fact rarely done. Albeit, history has been on Bill Belichick’s side, as he has reformed troubled players in the past, and I assume, he thinks he can do the same for these two. I, on the other hand, am not so sure.
First, there is no evidence that I know of that says that Ochocinco has shed any of his “it’s all about me” behavior. While everyone says he is a very talented receiver, the Pats may find that he may be more concerned about doing things that keep the spotlight on him than on the team. Not five minutes after he was traded was he calling out through the media that he wanted to "buy" his #85 jersey from his new Patriots teammate who had already been wearing that number in seasons past. There have been many other such examples that I won’t even go into. As for Haynesworth, assistant coach Pepper Johnson, who has been entrusted with the “care and feeding” of Haynesworth, says that since he has reported he has done everything asked of him and he is working hard to make-up for the time he lost from training camp by reporting late. Johnson declares the “the past is past” and that he is only evaluating him on what he is doing now. Certainly that approach is needed but if he is to change the behavior that led to his being traded, it may take a different approach that involves effective consequences. Haynesworth has a long list of troubles with coaches, on-field incidents and off-field legal troubles. Johnson will need help from Belichick, other coaches and the other Patriot players.
Whether that will happen is a long shot. There is no question that reform of Haynesworth’s many bad habits will require a high frequency of reinforcement and potentially the use of effective consequences. Whether Coach Johnson has the behavioral knowledge and the ability to gradually shape new habits is suspect. While I know that any behavior can be changed, I am not sure that the Patriot coaches and supporting players have the behavioral knowledge and the patience required to reform such well-established dysfunctional patterns of behavior on the part of Ochocino or Haynesworth. It’s been said that they are looking for redemption from past failed seasons. I hope they are as there have been too many “talented players” in sports that have flamed out before they delivered the performance their talent promised.
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