Former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo, now forever known as the kicker kicked by Urban Meyer, is suing the Jacksonville franchise for creating a hostile work environment during the 2021 season.
Meyer’s tenure lasted less than a year, but he certainly left his mark on that organization — and on Lambo, who claims that the physical and verbal abuse he was subjected to at Meyer’s hands (and feet) impacted his ability to sleep , train, and game. Lambo, who had been with the team since 2017, was fired from the team by the most-scoring kicker in Jags history in October. Per the Tampa Bay Timeshe is demanding his 2021 salary, which totals $3.5 million, as well as damages for emotional distress.
The football coaching culture has long been characterized by an intrusive, physical, and sometimes even demeaning style of bringing out the best in a team’s players. Seeing a coach grab a player’s helmet at the grill, or administer grueling corporal punishment, or even force a player to practice through an injury was seen as part of a sport that required toughness. Much of that culture is now changing for the better – coaches who abuse their players emotionally or physically are held accountable at a higher level valuation, even when they win games, which has long been seen as a cover for any kind of sin. (Urban didn’t have that cover – if he did, it’s hard to say if Shad Khan would have fired him anyway. Probably not.)
“With the knowledge that we have in safe sport today, we know that the approach of the past may not have brought out the best in people and that in this process of rethinking our approach, there will be this transition period,” said George Law Professor Ellen Washington University’s Zavian, who serves as a trustee for Safe Sport International and has previously worked with the NFL and NFLPA. “I think we’re in a period of transition where the coaches are part of the older approach and the youth are part of the newer approach. Until we make that transition, we will have a bumpy road.”
Lambo’s lawsuit is certainly a stumbling block on the way to a different coaching style that’s becoming more mainstream, one that’s not about kicking kickers and berating them in practice. Meyer’s abject failure with the Jaguars is perhaps a signpost that the more traditional style of coaching is becoming unsuccessful in developing talent. He was not respected by his assistants or his players because he approached the job in a semi-fascist manner – an approach that had clearly worked for him in the past but now appears to have run its course.
But will NFL workplace culture change as a result of the lawsuit itself? Doubtful. The changes may already be underway, but I doubt we’ll see an influx of hostile workplace lawsuits across the league as a result – largely because Urban Meyer is to blame. Everyone hates Urban Meyer. You would be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t automatically agree that they likely created a very toxic work environment, especially afterwards that A sporty piece came out.
While Lambo can capitalize on the public’s anti-urban sentiment, he’s not trying to make an example of his team for the rest of the league. The Jags will likely settle out of court, but this lawsuit will nonetheless mark a significant turning point in the bumpy transition path that Zavian has outlined. Abusive coaching is no longer overlooked. It will be punished.