This clip from the New York Jets edition of Hard Knocks is all you need to know about the efficacy of fighting and physical confrontations. Vernon Gholston was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, a physical specimen who was, even then, derisively referred to as a "workout warrior." Gholston was in his third year with the Jets while Hard Knocks was shooting and he was converting from linebacker to defensive end because no one yet wanted to admit the top pick was a bust.
The idea, as the clip suggests, is that getting into a fight would be the final turning point for Gholston. The same sentiment has been bandied about in discussions on the Incognito-Martin story. It was reported the coaching staff wanted Incognito to toughen up Martin. It was suggested (by even his own GM) that Martin needed to settle this physically with Incognito, that that's how you solve a problem and move on. Rex and the Jets seemed to be thinking similarly, that if Gholston just let loose against someone he would morph into something other than a colossal disappointment.
It's so very hard to tell with Ryan, who is always pumping up his players for their own benefit, but he sounded pleased with Gholston's progress that summer and was near-salivating at the possibilities of a fully-unleashed Vernon Gholston. So Ryan reportedly had Rob Turner, an Incognito-lite, get under Gholston's skin. He did and Gholston responded exactly how Ryan wanted: he got mad and he got physical. Gholston had the best day of his career at that practice, according to Ryan. We all remember him going on and on about the position of Gholston's nuts. He went in front of the press and said he had never been more excited about Vernon Gholston.
Wikipedia now charitably describes Gholston as an "American football defensive end who is currently a free agent."
Gholston, perhaps like Martin, didn't need to be brought out of his shell. There is no shell. There is only Vernon Gholston and Jonathan Martin. There is no archetypal human personality. There are just people. There is an assumption that only Alphas play football, but that's all it is, an assumption. Some Alphas play football, others are librarians. Some Betas play football. Football likes to pretend as though it operates on some parallel plane of human existence where regular guys are gladiators, but all these men still occupy the same space as the rest of us. They have individual personalities, thoughts and feelings. The logic goes like this: to become a better football player you don't need to study the playbook, work out or watch film; you need to completely change your personality to be like this other guy, who's good at football.
This is the fallacy running unabated throughout football. Vernon Gholston was a quiet, well-mannered guy who was no good at football.The only common trait among those statements is that they describe Vernon Gholston; "after this, therefore because of this" sounds so silly when you spell it out in plain english. No one would argue that what put Ray Lewis over the top was his trash talking.
A fight wasn't going to unleash Gholston's full potential and make him a better football player. He was fully unleashed; it doesn't matter that he didn't have Ray Lewis's mouth, he didn't have his talent. In the clip above you see Mark Carrier discuss him perfectly: "When things happen he kinda just freezes for a second, kinda takes it in, takes a picture of it and then reacts, and you can't do that, it's too late." Whatever the missing link between doing that and not doing that is certainly debatable, but it's very clearly not fighting an idiot teammate.
Nevertheless Gholston got into that fight the Jets staff seemingly orchestrated. He played in 16 games that season and recorded 5 tackles. He was released following the season and spent a month with the Bears in 2011 and a week with the Rams in 2012. Gholston has been a free agent since 2012.