Miami is the center of an NFL media storm, and it’s not because the storied franchise is in the hunt to make their first playoff appearance since 2008.
One of the team’s offensive linemen, Richie Incognito, allegedly bullied a teammate by leaving offensive and racist voicemails on his teammate’s phone and repeating similar behavior over their time together in the last two years.
That teammate, second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, has since separated himself from the team, while Incognito has been suspended by the Dolphins until further notice.
Martin's legal counsel, David Cornwell, says in a statement that his client “endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing."
Cornwell went on to say: “Jonathan attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment.
"This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying. Despite these efforts, the taunting continued. Beyond the well-publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments. These facts are not in dispute.”
Incognito recently broke his silence, telling FOX Sports that he was a supportive teammate of Martin and denied bullying him. The veteran lineman claims his remarks “came from a place of love” towards his younger colleague.
While the details continue to unfold, it seems they may only be making the case less and less clear to what actually happened.
However, the truth about what transpired might not be the biggest issue that the NFL and other major professional leagues will have to deal with in the aftermath.
For years we’ve seen the images of NFL rookies being forced to cut their hair in ridiculous fashion, duct taped to goal posts after practice or something as simple as carrying veteran players’ shoulder pads and being ridiculed when they refuse to comply.
And there lies the problem. The NFL has never addressed the issue of hazing with a set of rules.
That doesn’t mean the league is ignoring the issue.
In a recent press release, NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell said, “Under league policy, all employees have the right to a workplace free of any form of harassment. We are fully committed to an appropriate working environment for all NFL personnel.”
While Incognito’s actions will likely violate the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy under the umbrella of “Violent or threatening behavior among employees, whether in or outside the workplace” and “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs or NFL players”, there’s nothing specifically designated from the league that deals specifically with hazing or bullying.
Typically coaches will mandate how the culture of their locker room operates.
Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006, and Andy Reid, who currently has the Kansas City Chiefs off to a league best 9-0 start, are two examples of successful coaches that changed the “traditional” NFL locker room and implemented strict “no hazing” policies.
The culture of the NFL isn’t one that is open to “soft” players.
At its very core the team with the bigger, stronger players will succeed in most instances, so the need for “toughening up” players is obvious with such high stakes.
While any professional sports locker room is a far cry from the standard workplace for most citizens, it’s still just that: a workplace.
And let’s be honest, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a billion dollar business that lets its employees be hazed in any fashion.
Possibly the biggest problem the Dolphins are facing isn’t that this was potentially another case of locker room mistreatment from one player to another, but it has reportedly involved figures from the general manager condoning Martin punching his teammate in the nose, to the coaching staff encouraging Incognito to “toughen up” the young player.
While the details aren’t clear as to what actually went on over the past year between Martin and Incognito - whether it was bullying, racism, hazing or details taken out of context - one thing is clear: it was standard procedure in an NFL locker room, and that’s about to change.