In-fighting can lead to chemistry issues

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

CANTON, Ohio – Agent Tom Condon once represented two offensive linemen on the same team who didn't get along. Actually, they hated each other. So much so that one day they got into a nasty fight. The winner of the fight then called Condon, ostensibly to have Condon warn the other player to stop giving him "the look."

"I'm thinking to myself, 'What the heck am I supposed to do about this one?' " Condon said.

While Friday's fight between Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and teammate/cornerback Ken Lucas was ugly, it's not as rare as you think. Yet, it's nonetheless problematic. Smith received a two-game suspension after breaking Lucas' nose.

Now, the question is whether the two can coexist? Or will the moment cause a divide in the locker room?

"That's something that can definitely cause some chemistry problems if they don't deal with it," Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "Most fights you see in practice, they're not like that. Maybe some pushing and shoving, then other guys jump in and break it up and it's like no problem. That one there, that sounds ugly."

That's because it was. According to the Charlotte Observer, Lucas and Smith were debating a play at practice when the receiver struck Lucas in the face. The cornerback was kneeling on one knee at the time of the punch.

"You don't have to like all your teammates, but you have to respect them," Washington defensive end Jason Taylor said. "It can become a problem if you allow it to, if you don't sit down and talk about it."

Lucas, expected to be sidelined for 2-3 weeks and scheduled for surgery, says he has talked to Smith and that he accepts his teammate's apology. However, Lucas also acknowledges that some discrepancies need to be ironed out between the two who have had a testy relationship since Lucas joined the organization in 2005.

"As a coach, you have to set down a rule that you can't break somebody's nose on the sideline," Washington tight end Chris Cooley said, somewhat whimsically. "And if you're going to miss two games, you're probably going to think about it a little more, but I don't think it causes a chemistry problem. It's not like this is a women's basketball team."

Welcome to the boys will be boys theme. In short, the belief of Cooley and many others in the NFL is that fights between teammates are a part of life in the NFL, no matter how brutal. The 1997 Redskins survived a nasty tussle when wide receiver Michael Westbrook brutally beat then-unheralded running back Stephen Davis. Davis eventually developed into the team's starting running back.

In the sometimes bizarre days of Charles Haley in San Francisco, Haley once became so angry that he reportedly urinated on a teammate's car. Haley was part of two Super Bowl championships with the 49ers and three more with Dallas after San Francisco became too weary of his antics.

Even the worst fight that Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy experienced in his 30 years of playing and coaching in the NFL was just a blip in time.

"Actually, Al Cowlings and Ron Singleton in my last year (1979) playing in San Francisco was pretty much like that," Dungy said, comparing the fight to the Smith-Lucas battle. "That was a bad one, probably the worst one like that. They were rolling around on the ground, punching each other. It took a lot to break it up."

But …

"It didn't have a lasting effect on the team. It was just a wild, ugly fight. It appeared to be a really bad one that could last, but after that they were just teammates. I don't know how they felt about each other, but it didn't affect the team," said Dungy, whose 49ers went 2-14 that year under Bill Walsh.

One difference for Carolina is that this is the second time Smith, who has a reputation for being emotionally high strung, has duked it out with a teammate. In 2002, he punched former teammate Anthony Bright during a film session. Smith was suspended for one game and settled a civil lawsuit by Bright out of court.

Still, most fights don't reach the level of severe injuries and lawsuits.

"I haven't been part of a fight like (the Smith-Lucas fight). Most times that I have seen fights with the Redskins, they've been intense but guys can almost high-five on the way into the locker room," Cooley said. "It doesn't linger, it's something that's resolved quickly. There's a lot of tension on the practice field … so it's not uncommon for something like that to happen. What you hope for as a team, if I was involved in a fight, is go in the locker room and say, 'Sorry dude' and get it over with."

To Dungy, the key is to stop it before it starts.

"I haven't had many because I don't let our guys fight in practice," Dungy said. "I tell them you're going to get the same thing that you would get in a game: Kicked out of the game and a $10,000 fine. So we don't have many fights."

What to Read Next