The Chiefs are less than three weeks removed from celebrating a second title in four years, but you didn’t think that would make them immune to a little drama, right?
The most intriguing kind, too: self-inflicted.
The Super Bowl champions were on the receiving end of a proverbial slap on the wrist from some of their own this week, when the NFL Players Association released the results of an inaugural player survey. In the collection of anonymous responses, the Chiefs ranked 29th among the league’s 32 teams in a report card compiled of eight criteria — treatment of families, food service and nutrition, weight room, training room, strength coaches, training staff, locker room and team travel.
The Chiefs received a D grade or worse in five of the eight categories — food service and nutrition, training room, locker room, training staff and team travel. They ranked in the top half of the league in just one category — treatment of families — and even then, they had a specific complaint within it.
There is some context provided and probably some more needed. Rick Burkholder, the team’s vice president of sports medicine and performance, was skewered for a perception of not treating players fairly.
But the overwhelming majority of the remaining complaints point us toward the same conclusion:
The franchise that wants your money will go to greater lengths than most to save a buck. That’s how those inside the locker room see it, anyway. Oh, and that’s an outdated locker room, if you ask them, by the way.
The full context of that paragraph is important, because it’s not surprising that some of the world’s richest businessmen discover profits on the margins. But the Chiefs are not being graded on a curve set by charity foundations. They’re being compared to their peers. And the five categories most closely correlated to financial investments graded out like this:
D+, C+, D+, D-, F.
A grade card you hide from your parents.
Posted on the internet for whoever wants to see it.
Which is the whole idea, right? The players certainly aren’t unbiased in the equation. They want the best accommodations possible. Some are certainly used to being lured by the best facilities that college football money can buy. And they want the rest of us to play the role we’re playing now — the media writing about it and the consumer reading about it.
It roped me in. But the takeaway shouldn’t be that NFL players are treated poorly. It’s that those in Kansas City believe they have it worse than others in the league. I don’t want to make it sound like the Chiefs are on the verge of a coup, but the organization should feel at least a hint of embarrassment for what the public now knows.
The players believe the team cuts corners their counterparts do not. Only 56% of Kansas City players who took part in the survey believe chairman and owner Clark Hunt is willing to invest money to upgrade the facility. Only five owners received a lower confidence rating in that category.
The Chiefs declined comment on the grade card to The Star’s Herbie Teope.
There were 1,300 players across the league surveyed, and while we don’t know how many of those came from inside the Chiefs locker room, that equates to an average of 40 players per team. In other words, this isn’t a couple of disgruntled employees getting into their feelings on Glassdoor. This is upwards of three-fourths of the room. We should also keep in mind that this room is a successful one on the field and one that largely speaks highly of its coaching staff. If the Houston Texans had complaints, you’d probably be a bit more skeptical as to their legitimacy.
The complaints about the Chiefs are specific, too, in addition to singling out Burkholder.
The Chiefs are one of 11 teams that do not offer daycare during games. The Chiefs are one of just six teams that require younger players to have roommates on road trips. If there’s a legitimate reason other than finances why that number is not zero, I have not heard it.
The players also complain that the seats planted in front of their lockers are stools rather than chairs they can actual lean back in, which feels like a Seinfeld episode. I suppose he could swivel.
These are some items that would necessitate renovations; the locker room and cafeteria get dinged in the writeup. But there are others that could be reversed in a day, if they had the motivation to make the changes. If nothing else, they have that now. Your move, I suppose.
The job of an NFL owner is not to engage in an arms race of who can provide the cushiest lifestyle for the players — and whatever the Chiefs’ limitations in this area, they are still quite successful in the measurement that matters most. They win. A lot. Maybe they feel there’s a correlation with not providing a luxurious lifestyle. Or maybe this is one more thing the talent of Patrick Mahomes can cover up.
Either way, are we to believe that after hosting five consecutive AFC Championship Games, they can’t afford a couple of extra hotel rooms? That they can’t afford to release a player’s stress by taking care of daycare accommodations as said athlete is performing on Sunday?
It’s hard for me to get to a place where NFL players making millions are the victims. There are worse things in the world than sharing a hotel room before playing a football game. They’ll be fine. But if the alternative is the rich owners becoming richer, well, it’s hard not to side with the players responsible for bringing in the cash. Let’s not construe this as a player narrative. It is one about those in charge.
The Chiefs aren’t all alone here. The Cardinals players say they are charged for to-go meals from the team cafeteria. But the bottom of player benefits is not the type of company you want to keep — if for no other reason than player perception. Think some free agents won’t be scrolling through the comments this month? This doesn’t help.
The review was collected a full year ago — March 2022 — but the organization just learned of it this week, along with the rest of us. Which means we probably should brace ourselves for some similar results next year. But if we’re still talking about this following the 2023 season, they’ll deserve every bit of the backlash they receive.
Come what may.
This story was originally published March 2, 2023, 1:55 PM.
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Sam McDowell is a sports columnist for The Star. He has previously covered the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting Kansas City and sports enterprise.