Former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo, forever known now as the kicker who was 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 made his mark on that organization — and on Lambo, who is claiming that the physical and verbal abuse he underwent at the hands (and feet) of Meyer affected his ability to sleep, practice, and play. Lambo, who had been with the team since 2017, went from being the most accurate kicker in Jags history to getting released from the team in October. Per the Tampa Bay Times, he’s asking for his 2021 salary, which amounts to $3.5 million, as well as damages for emotional distress.
Football coaching culture has long been defined by an in-your-face, physical, and even sometimes belittling, style to wring the best out of a team’s players. To see a coach grab a player’s helmet by the grill, or to enact a grueling physical punishment, or even to force a player to practice through an injury was seen as part of a sport that demanded toughness. A lot of that culture is changing now for the better — coaches who emotionally or physically abuse their players are being held accountable at a higher rate, even if they’re winning games, which was long seen as a cover for any manner of sins. (Urban did not have that cover — if he had, it’s hard to say whether Shad Khan still would have fired him. Probably not.)
“With the knowledge that we have today in safe sport, we know that the approach of the past may have not obtained the best out of people, and that in this process of rethinking our approach, there will be this transition period,” said George Washington University law professor Ellen Zavian, who serves as a trustee for Safe Sport International and who previously worked with the NFL and the NFLPA. “I believe we’re in the transition period with the coaches being part of the older approach, and the youth being part of the newer approach. Until we make this transition, we’re going to have a bumpy road.”
Lambo’s lawsuit is certainly a bump in that road to a different style of coaching becoming more mainstream, one that doesn’t involve kicking kickers and cussing them out in practice. Meyer’s abject failure with the Jags is, perhaps, a signpost for the more traditional coaching style growing unsuccessful in developing talent. He wasn’t respected by his assistants or his players due to his semi-fascist approach to the job — an approach that had clearly worked for him in the past, but which seems to have now run its course.
But as to whether NFL workplace culture will change as a result of the lawsuit itself? Doubtful. The changes may be coming down the pipe already, but I doubt we’ll see an influx of hostile workplace lawsuits throughout the league as a result of this — mostly because it’s Urban Meyer at fault. Everyone hates Urban Meyer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who didn’t automatically agree that he had likely caused a very toxic workplace environment, particularly after that Athletic piece came out.
While Lambo may well be using the leverage of anti-Urban public sentiment, he’s not trying to make an example of his team for the rest of the league. The Jags will probably end up settling out of court, but this lawsuit will still mark a significant turning point in the bumpy road of transition that Zavian described. Abusive coaching is no longer overlooked. It’s going to get punished.