Dolphins' Bullying Case Raises Questions Over The Locker-Room Culture In The NFL
The unfolding relationship between Dolphins OT Jonathan Martin and G Richie Incognito is forcing the NFL to "uncomfortably turn its gaze toward locker room culture and start defining the gray areas between good-natured pranks and hurtful bullying," according to a front-page piece by Branch & Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Young NFL players are "often expected to carry teammates’ equipment off the field" and are "sometimes forced to sing or otherwise entertain teammates on demand, left helplessly taped to goal posts or asked to regularly bring sandwiches or fast food to teammates." Many teams have a "tradition of requiring rookies to pay the bill at an annual steakhouse dinner." But the hazing "generally stays in the macho atmosphere of the locker room." The Dolphins’ latest problems "burst into the public in recent days, forcing the team to address the matter." Players and coaches around the league "generally defended the culture of pranks, provided they did not become overly aggressive." However, those "borders may be impossible to define." Jets G Willie Colon said, "Any time a guy feels disrespected and like he can’t go to work and feel comfortable, that’s when you can’t have that in the locker room" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/5). Former NFLer Tony Boselli said, "When I was playing, the rookies were always responsible to bring doughnuts every Saturday, or provide the sunflower seeds. Then at the end of the year, we'd all go out to dinner and the rookies all had to split it. But it was all in fun." He added, "The racial stuff? There's no place for that. No place at all" (L.A. TIMES, 11/5).
GOING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: In N.Y., Gary Myers writes locker room hazing has been "rationalized as a rite of passage and part of the culture that has long been accepted in the NFL." But the Martin-Incognito situation appears to be "an unconscionable and blatant case of workplace intimidation that not only threatens the Dolphins’ season, but will force all teams to take a much closer look at what’s going on inside their locker rooms." This goes "way beyond the boys-will-be-boys mentality of NFL locker rooms with reports that Incognito sent racially charged text messages and voice mails and crude threats to Martin" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/5). In Miami, Greg Cote writes this situation "puts bullying on the NFL radar, at least." It forces the league to "understand that it must be worried about more than just the concussion-related safety of its players or their arrests for stuff like DUIs or domestic abuse." There must be a "new, enforceable demand, from both teams and the league, that players have a right to enjoy a workplace atmosphere free from prejudice, hostility, coercion, bullying or any other mental or physical mistreatment" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/5). ESPN's Herm Edwards said, “This is a workplace, no different than any other workplace. You have to set the tone and let players know there are certain things you will not tolerate” ("NFL Live," ESPN, 11/4). Former NFLer and CBSSN analyst Bart Scott on ESPN Radio 98.7 N.Y. said, "I want to see [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell step up and talking about player conduct and protecting the shield -- this guy needs to be out of this league." He added, "Take it to a point where you're harassing him by phone? ... That's taking bullying to a whole other level" (ESPN.com, 11/4).
CONTRARY TO IMAGE NFL WANTS: In DC, Sally Jenkins writes this situation is "about an image the league has been trying desperately to change in recent years, and that Incognito personifies: players as conscienceless gangsters who play a game of uncontrolled violence, with sadism and excess as byproducts." The "worst part of this story for the NFL is the suggestion that there is a lingering subterranean culture in which thuggery is not just tolerated but rewarded, while restraint is seen as weak" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/5). ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg said that the Martin-Incognito situation “has made football look terrible.” Even with PEDs, which are "probably more rampant in pro football than anyone wants to acknowledge,” nothing gives the game of football “the black eye that something like this does” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 11/5). ESPN's Keith Olbermann said the "very culture of American sports may hang in the balance." Olbermann: "This is startling, eye-opening evidence that an adult can be bullied by another adult that is seemingly an impervious adult as a professional football player." The Dolphins "may be in it nearly as deep" as Incognito is because the team "went from denying it was aware of any bullying to asking the NFL to investigate to summarily suspending" Incognito "all in one day" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 11/4).
NO PLACE FOR BULLYING, RACE ISSUES: Last night's edition of ESPN's "Monday Night Countdown" featured a conversation about bullying and race in the NFL, with ESPN's Bill Polian noting there is "no place for race and there's no place for threats" in the locker room. Polian said the current situation is a "failure of veteran leadership on that club." ESPN's Mike Ditka said players in the locker room "should take care" of Incognito's behavior and "they shouldn't tolerate this for one moment." ESPN's Tom Jackson said it was "despicable behavior" but wondered, "Why didn’t the locker room deal with this swiftly and act upon what they saw Richie Incognito doing?" ESPN's Chris Berman said the situation "speaks to an even larger deal" and a "larger-than-football story." Meanwhile, ESPN's Cris Carter said, "If an NFL player tells you right now, 'I'm going to kill you,' you need to be on alert. What we got going on, we got a guy on trial (former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez) for multiple murders. So when a guy in the NFL tells you he'll kill you, now they're more than capable of doing that and I would be afraid" ("Monday Night Countdown," ESPN, 11/4). SI.com's Jim Trotter wrote, "Did anyone really believe that bullying didn't take place in the locker room? It has always been there, in some form or another" (SI.com, 11/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote perhaps this could have "all been avoided if NFL teams (and the league) did more to support consultation with on-site therapists" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/4).
END HAZING ALL TOGETHER: THE MMQB's Peter King wonders why hazing of any kind should "exist in the NFL" and writes the league "must think about banning anything that reeks of hazing." Just because this tradition "has been handed down doesn't make it smart, or right." King: "You can't convince me the league would be worse off without even mild hazing" (MMQB.SI.com, 11/5). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes, "All hazing needs to stop: the singing, the dinners, the carrying of equipment." That is what "leads to stories like this one" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 11/5). Meanwhile, CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote what has already been made public in the Martin-Incognito case "isn't bullying." It is "way worse than that, and calling it bullying almost dignifies it." It is "almost surely legally actionable" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 11/4).
DO SCHOOL TIES PLAY A ROLE? Martin graduated from Stanford, and former NFLer and Harvard Univ. grad Isaiah Kacyvenski said that a "degree from an elite academic school can make a player a magnet for bullying from teammates." He said, "I was made fun of for a lot of reasons. Only in the NFL can a Harvard degree have negative consequences" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 11/4). In San Jose, Tim Kawakami noted he asked Stanford football coach David Shaw if he was "at all concerned that there's maybe some tension between Stanford players and other NFL players with different backgrounds?" Shaw indicated that he was not concerned at all, because Stanford's program "is at the level where it is sending players regularly to the NFL" (MECURYNEWS.com, 11/4).
UNION CHIMES IN: The NFLPA issued a statement on the Martin-Incognito situation this morning that stated, "We expect that the NFL and its clubs create a safe and professional workplace for all players and that owners, executives, coaches and players should set the best standards and examples. It is the duty of this union to hold the clubs and teams accountable for safety and professionalism in the workplace. As the representative organization of all players, the NFLPA will insist on a fair investigation for all involved. We will continue to remain in contact with the impacted players, their representatives and player leadership" (THE DAILY). ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said she was "curious" about the role the NFLPA would play, as this is a "player against player" situation. MacMullan: "Does Richie Incognito want some help and some relief from the players' association, because I don't imagine Jonathan Martin's agents think that's a good idea" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 11/4).