Is ‘cultural relativism’ a key to success in the NFL?

Photo of Sean McDermott from


Recall my recent post threatening to spend time during the “quiet period” examining the concept of ‘culture’ and how it may or may not relate to improving successful outcomes (winning) in the NFL. First, let’s begin by putting some context around the meaning of the term ‘culture’ for the purposes of this discussion.

Disclaimer: Either shut your device off now and walk away – or forever be tainted by this post.

Culturists are blooming all over the NFL and it’s high time we examine why team ‘culture’ has become the latest buzz word around the league. Endless numbers of articles and references with very little operational definition of what is even meant by the term ‘culture’.

As it best relates to this discussion, Merriam-Webster defines culture as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.

The key word in this mind-numbing definition is the word shared. In my previous post, I posed a question about whether or not there was even such a thing of ‘no culture’ with respect to an NFL team. The answer appears to be no – if Merriam-Webster are to be believed.

The word ‘solidarity’ comes to mind when thinking about how a team creates a unique culture in the NFL. The essence of cultivating culture would seem to involve creating an environment where this type of solidarity leads to successful outcomes on the field of play.

Photo from

Because these terms are not always measurable in the sense of 40-times and three-cone drills, they seem to be scoffed at by traditionalists who view success or failure in the NFL as predominantly a physical concept.

Yet there is an ever-increasing number of NFL coaches and general managers who are beginning to embrace and cultivate this intangible yet vital concept of culture into their program development. Could it be the immeasurable edge it may give teams that could be the difference between winning and losing?

Let’s not forget that ‘cult’ is a root for the word ‘culture’ itself. Does this mean culturists in the NFL are creating and branding their own version of a cult?

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he celebrates after the Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky).

Look no further than the success of the Belichickian ‘cult’ in New England for your answer to that question. Gregg Williams may also create culture through dubious means but no one can argue about his success as a defensive coordinator in the league, at least as defined by all those fancy numbers.

The bottom line to this discussion is that whatever type of culture you create, there are consequences that must be taken into consideration. And perhaps the most important realization to take away from this exercise in futility is that we must all realize our own bias is created by the language of people around us.

The Khan Academy wrote the best little ditty about cultural relativism that will be helpful as we move through this (mostly useless) discussion. Take the time to read it and you’ll get a better idea about how the culture we live in impacts our entire perception of the world.

So if you’ve made it this far, it’s probably too late for you to extinguish all this nonsense from your brain. You might as well stay tuned for my next installment where we take a look at the culture Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are nurturing with the Buffalo Bills.

Editor’s babble: Oh goody. There’s more. If you can stand it, you can also find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.