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Commentary: Bullying in National Football League

by on November 10, 2013 1:59 AM

As if the NFL didn’t have enough problems with head injuries and an increasing public awareness about how dangerous its business can be, evidently it now has to deal with incidents of sophomoric behavior from elephantine players with egos to match who never have grown up.

Anyone who has pledged a college fraternity knows what’s coming when he decides to join: a freshman year of rather constant badgering from those already initiated and who had to put up with it themselves. It’s called hazing, and it’s all in the name of fun — until it isn’t. And that is more frequent than anyone would like. I don’t know if it still involves regularly being swatted in the butt with a paddle, as in my day. There are worse things, including constant emotional stress.

Most of the men/boys in the NFL come out of a college atmosphere where the chances are pretty good they have some knowledge of what goes on in fraternities, even if they hadn’t actually joined one. So throughout league history, rookies have been subjected to some of the same kind of juvenile treatment as the average college-frat pledge has.

Mostly locker-room buffoonery seems quite harmless: being forced to sing a school fight song or run an errand or even pay big bucks for a dinner out with your older colleagues with huge appetites. While it can be quite expensive, it isn’t as though these “underclassmen” aren’t well-paid. Other times, however, it becomes more oppressive — as apparently in the case of two players on the Miami Dolphins, both linemen weighing over 300 pounds.

Veteran Richie Incognito and rookie Jonathan Martin have become the center of an investigation into what could be an embarrassing (to the league) hazing scandal.

It is alleged that tattooed veteran Incognito, who has a reputation for nastiness that stems from his college days at Nebraska, has been taking the tradition more than a bit too far. As in bullying. He allegedly subjected Martin, a prep-school and Stanford product with a penchant for classical music and the humanities, to constant insults, including comments said to be racist. Incognito is white and Martin is black. Martin, a second-round draft pick, has packed his bag and left, and Incognito has been suspended.

All this has forced the NFL to tackle a problem mostly ignored over the years by coaches who necessarily care only about winning — and forget the small stuff. They don’t have time to micromanage the workplace environment that at times seems more like a sandbox occupied by brats.

Well, now — boys will be boys, don’t you know. So what if there is a little sadistic style horseplay? It relieves the tension in the violent world that is American football. Actually, the argument goes, it makes the players closer and more a part of the team. At least, that’s the pop psychology spouted to rationalize this unreal world.

No one expects these guys to be gentle about much of anything given the nature of the game. But it is not too much to expect them to keep their mitts off each other and their comments to themselves, especially if the player’s on the same team.

I was 18 the last time anyone hit me on the backside with a paddle, and I decided that sort of nonsense was unacceptable. Martin decided the same thing.



Dan Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, which distributes his column.
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