Last July after midnight, I happened to voluntarily step off a plane in Chicago with a cocktail stewardess who also accepted the free trip. My “sacrifice” was good for a roundtrip ticket to Peru, and so I got on a van for a motel with her and her boyfriend who worked as a small-time sports agent starting out with couple pro NFL clients.
Well, that was the night of the Chicago Blackhawks celebration, and the three of us were stuck on that van for about 90 minutes, enjoying the celebration right outside our window and chatting about sports.
He wasn’t familiar with my decades-long stand on zero tolerance for hazing, but he jumped in vigorously on a financial issue. His small stable of rookie clients was stressed beyond measure at the extortion—no other word for it—of huge sums of money demanded by veterans at training camps. As I well knew, but as he firsthand stated, high-bonus players and not-so-high draft picks alike were coerced into spending money on player junkets, gifts such as expensive jewelry, and outlandish meals in which certain veterans ordered everything on the menu.
“It’s killing my guys,” he said, both financially and spiritwise.
He didn’t mention any other forms of bullying. But I’ve written in the past about some of the flareups over the years.
–Of the Dez Bryant flap when, at least at first, he refused to carry a veteran’s shoulder pads.
–Of the ridiculous tradition by the New York Giants and others to toss rookies into ice tubs
–Of the bullying and hazing by the old New Orleans Saints under Mike Ditka where a gauntlet injured first-year players Cam Cleveland and Jeff Danish.
Whether it be in high school athletics hazing or fraternity hazing, there has always been a “hidden harm” factor that comes up over and over. Every year, I get calls from parents and athletes—some angry and some despairing—over the mental and physical (mainly after sexual assaults) abuse dished out in locker rooms, buses and yeah, in restaurants as well. Paying $10,000 for a team meal is not only outlandish and wasteful, but again, extortion.
So the fact that Jonathan Martin has gone off to seek counseling after a racist and threatening tirade by Richie Incognito is now a labor management issue that ought to become a teachable moment for the NFL—and all pro, college and high school sports, really. I also wonder aloud if what he said on the phone reached the level of a hate crime. It sure wasn’t the kind of hazing meant to bond rookies with veterans…but to exclude a rookie from feeling welcomed.
Lost among this big story is the fact that McGill University’s football team, accused of sexual hazing by a player eight years ago, now has forfeited the rest of its games for a hazing “party” last August. Although the details are sketchy, what is clear is that at last college officials have begun to say “enough is enough.”
Cornell University recently suspended its Big Red lacrosse team for hazing and this week, York University in Pennsylvania suspended its wrestling squad while officials tried to dig out the facts attached to serious hazing allegations.
Some heartening comments have come out of the Richie Incognito affair. He should not be the lone scapegoat in the NFL’s hazing mess, although goat he is and there is no escape for him given the ferocity of his comments directed toward Martin.
So let’s points some fingers. The NFL commissioner, the management of the Miami Dolphins, and the coaching staffs and owners of every other NFL team engaging in hazing have tolerated workplace harassment that is forbidden strictly by law. They deserve all the criticism finally coming out. Hazing is a form of discrimination and harassment driven solely by whether a worker–a player–is new or, as with Martin, perceived to be a loner or just different. To the likes of an Incognito, a player likes Martin threatens the status quo, and an Incognito lashes out when he feels or perceives a threat, unaware that it his own actions that ultimately can hurt or perhaps even destroy a season.
What’s long been needed is zero tolerance for a practice that long ago got out of hand. And at the college and high school level, has no place in educational institutions purportedly using sports to build character.
And as for the rookies mentioned by the agent I had a chance encounter with this summer…the Jonathan Martin incident could have been you. It should be all the incentive you need to stand up to bullying and hazing.
For every Richie Incognito, there are many NFL players stepping in quietly to help rookies out and to calm down the sadists, zanies and misguided bullies who perpetuate unacceptable behaviors. See Peyton Manning.
Could this episode be the keystone event that brings hazing in pro sports, at least, to a long-overdue end?
One can hope, one can hope.
But one thing is for sure. Richie Incognito isn’t laughing anymore. He stands convicted in the court of public opinion today as the poster child of bullying and hazing. He’ll be remembered for that long after everyone has forgotten last year’s Pro Bowl appearance.
Richie Incognito is fortunate the Florida hazing law applies only “to a student.” Otherwise, I’d urge a prosecutor to look at his actions. http://www.stophazing.org/laws/fl_law.htm