Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL's culture of hazing, bullying must be stopped

How did this happen?

How does a Stanford-educated, 24-year-old man who stands an imposing 6 feet 5, 312 pounds and plays in one of the meanest sporting leagues in the world become so scared of a teammate that he risks ridicule and scorn by walking away from his job as a well-paid professional football player?

Here's how: sports and the NFL, in particular, have created a culture where hazing, teasing and bullying have not only become an accepted practice, but a respected time-honored rite of passage.

It has to stop.

Whether it's being taped to a goalpost, forced to carry equipment, singing college fight songs, fetching Gatorade or picking up the tab at an expensive dinner, rookies have been pushed around by veterans since the days of leather helmets. So we shouldn't be stunned that a caveman such as the Dolphins' Richie Incognito took hazing to another level by doing what he is alleged to have done to teammate Jonathan Martin. According to reports, Incognito

physically threatened Martin, taunted him with racial slurs, demanded and received money to pay for a trip to Las Vegas and, generally, made Martin's life a living hell.

And while this appears to be an extreme example of hazing that evolved into bullying, you're naive if you think this is an isolated case. Incognito's harassment of Martin, who is in his second NFL season, has been going on for nearly 18 months and we didn't hear about it until Martin left the team last week. More reports say other Dolphins veterans use rookies as ATMs to pay for their South Florida lifestyles.

And based on the initial reaction of the public and his own team, you could see why Martin was hesitant to say anything.

When this story broke, the reaction was swift and one-sided: Martin was being a baby. He was being too sensitive. He needed to man up.

Even now, some suggest that if Martin felt Incognito had crossed the line, he should have taken matters into his own hands — as if it's acceptable to go to your workplace, even if that workplace is an NFL locker room, and settle your problems with violence.

Yet, that is the NFL mentality. If someone disrespects you, the appropriate response is a fist. But in the violent manly-man's world of the NFL, what you don't do is cry about it. What you don't do is run away. What you don't do is tell on them.

Meantime, the Dolphins bungled this situation right from the start. On Sunday morning, they said stories of bullying and harassment were "speculation'' and talked about how they were helping Martin "during this time'' as if Martin had done something wrong.

After the Sunday morning NFL pregame shows started uncovering the messy details, the Dolphins released a second statement, saying they took the allegations seriously. Mind you, this was six days after Martin left the team.

Finally, only after the Dolphins and the NFL were made aware of vile, threatening and racially-charged text and telephone messages that Incognito allegedly sent to Martin did the team suspend Incognito.

Until then, this was a classic case of bullying, which works on a 24-year-old for the same reasons it works on a 10-year-old. The victim does what he is told. He stays quiet because he is afraid of making matters worse. He's afraid of retribution. He's afraid of being viewed as a tattletale or a rat. (Those words, alone, have negative connotations.) He's afraid he won't be believed. He's afraid of being outcast. He's afraid nothing will be done.

He is afraid. Of everything.

Meantime, none of Martin's teammates stood up for him, another by-product of bullying. There's the bully and then everyone who stands around allowing it to happen, whether it's in an NFL locker room or on the playground of an elementary school.

Football isn't the only sport where there is hazing. I've personally watched Lightning veterans order expensive steak dinners with wine and champagne and every appetizer on the menu and then hand the bill to rookies. Every year, Rays rookies are ordered to dress up in embarrassing costumes on a road trip. Many teams across all sports have such hazing rituals.

The Lightning and Rays traditions are tame compared to the Dolphins case. While the veterans with the Lightning and Rays might explain these scenarios as bonding experiences that everyone has been through, they are flat-out wrong. This is hazing. It should not be tolerated.

Rays rookies might publicly laugh while dressing up like a Hooters girl or a nurse or a baby, but there is no doubt in my mind that somewhere along the way, there was a Rays rookie who didn't want to do it, who felt extremely uncomfortable, yet did not dare refuse because of how it might look.

In 2010, then-Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant refused to carry the pads of veteran receiver Roy Williams. Bryant was roundly criticized for being a malcontent, for not being a good rookie, for being a bad teammate. Williams explained that he had to do it when he was a rookie.

"I carried pads, I paid for dinners, I paid for lunches,'' Williams said at the time. "I did everything I was supposed to do, because I didn't want to be that guy."

That guy? See the mentality here?

Look, this doesn't happen everywhere. Tony Dungy didn't allow hazing. Neither did Don Shula. Many coaches don't. But to dismiss this as an isolated incident caused by a bad seed would be negligent.

All hazing needs to stop: the singing, the dinners, the carrying of equipment. That's what leads to stories like this one.

If it doesn't, the next time a story like this comes up, it won't be just the bully's fault. It will be everyone who allowed it to happen.

Staying quiet? Doing nothing? Making the victim feel helpless? Turning a blind eye? Permitting this behavior?

That's what a bully counts on.

Comments
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been generous with his time, staying after practice to work with younger players. That should be a real added benefit for first-round pick Vita Vea.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"That's my M.O.'' Mc...
Published: 05/25/18
The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

TAMPA — Only three players in NFL history have posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of his first four years seasons: Randy Moss, A.J. Green and the Bucs' Mike Evans.RELATED: More Bucs coverageBut by Evans' standards, 2017 was "proba...
Published: 05/25/18
Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

TAMPA — If the first few days of OTAs are any indication, the Bucs secondary could be much improved.Completions may be down, interceptions should be up.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"A lot of interceptions,'' coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday' afte...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

TAMPA — This much is clear: The National Football League is focused on getting rid of kneeling players.That was the league's announcement Wednesday in requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games or possibly have their tea...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Two high draft picks that could earn starting jobs signed four year contracts with the Bucs Thursday.The team signed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first-round pick.Terms of the deal were not released, but Vea  is expected to r...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs offensive lineman Ali Marpet questioned the legality of the NFL's new  policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if t...
Published: 05/24/18
Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

The dust has settled from another NFL draft, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht has made three promotions in his scouting department as a new year of player evaluation begins.Byron Kiefer, entering his 14th season with the Bucs and fourth as a nati...
Published: 05/24/18
NFL’s new anthem policy requires players to stand on sideline or remain in locker room

NFL’s new anthem policy requires players to stand on sideline or remain in locker room

ATLANTA — The NFL and the owners of its 32 teams enacted a new national anthem policy Wednesday designed, they said, to compel players to stand if they’re on the sideline for the playing of the anthem prior to a game."Clearly our objective as a leagu...
Published: 05/23/18