The Fine Line of Hazing In Professional Sports

Richie Incognito is a known clown. The stories about him and his antics aren’t exaggerations. So the complaints and recorded threats that teammate Jonathan Martin had to deal with at the hands of Incognito aren’t surprising. What is surprising, though, is that people are comfortably deflecting from Incognito’s harassment to Martin’s choice to not “man up”.

Last time I checked, we all have the right to go to our place of work and not be harassed by co-workers. The locker room shouldn’t be exempt from that expectation.

Martin and Incognito at spring training this year

Hazing in professional sports is a rite of passage that those who don’t play wouldn’t be able to understand. It’s socialized behavior among grown men that has been done since the inception of sports. The difference is there was an unspoken line that one didn’t cross. Rookies (especially the ones who are drafted to the team) have already earned their spot professionally by signing contracts. Getting hazed is how they’re inducted into the pro football life. What Incognito did to his teammate was nowhere camaraderie.

By now, you’ve read about the expletive-laced voicemails and text messages left by Incognito. When you make threats on someone’s life, someone’s family member’s life, and address them using racial slurs, that’s taking a major leap into dark territory. There’s a modicum of respect that has diminished. In my opinion, this is not that far off from the situation earlier this year that got Rutgers mens’ basketball coach Mike Rice fired. Is being yelled at and verbally berated not a part of playing sports? Some coaches are more intense than others. Those guys are in college. So by legality, they’re grown men. Few told them to man up and deal with it. People majorly agreed with Rutgers’ castigation and consequential dismissal of Rice. Now had the players dealt with their adult coach the Latrell Sprewell way, it would have put their scholarship and eligibility in jeopardy. So why then is Jonathan Martin not afforded that type of response without undermining his manhood?

There are 2 schools of thought regarding this incident and the response to locker room bullying in general; either Martin is a snitch and should’ve thrown hands a la Jamie Foxx vs. LL Cool J in Any Given Sunday at Richie Incognito. Or this as an example of clear workplace harassment and side with Martin. Former Dolphins RB Ricky Williams weighed in Tuesday morning with the following: “To me, there’s no room to play the victim or to be bullied or even have that discussion when it comes to the NFL. I mean if you are having that discussion it just means that maybe you don’t belong in the NFL.” On the other side of the fence, LaDainian Tomlinson pointed at the franchise’s lack of leadership to why this situation escalated to the level it did.

“In every locker room there are jerks; we all have them. But at the same time, there are always guys that can go and talk to that jerk and say, ‘You’re going overboard.’ My problem is Miami doesn’t have that guy.”

I’d say it should’ve been looked at when Incognito and Martin’s tension landed QB Ryan Tannehill on his back 35 times this season.

No man should ever put his money on the line to protect his ego. There are a lot of big, brolic guys who aren’t fighters. They don’t use their size and stature to intimidate people. Just take a look at how many franchise NFL players have a close friend or a hired bodyguard whose only job is to handle their problems. Jonathan Martin strikes me as the type of guy who avoids confrontation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d never been in a legitimate fight in his life.

I hope this isolated incident doesn’t incite some type of hysteria where even more fun is sucked out of the experience of professional sports. Bullying in sports is not a problem. Grown men shouldn’t have to police other grown men. However, I do believe that once harmless hazing turns into harassment beyond work hours, a player shouldn’t be shunned for choosing to get upper management involved.

What say you? 

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2 comments

  1. Agreed on just about every point. Society has been desensitized to what is harrassment and also what lines shouldn’t be crossed. There’s a thirst for this very kind of salacious bullspit, and until society reevaluates where the acceptability line is…this mess will continue.

    1. Yup. You shouldn’t have to throw your manhood around because your teammate is a jerk. Let’s not forget that a card game between teammates (that could’ve been construed as hazing up the new guy) let to guns being drawn over money owed. That might be an extreme example, but in general, people have stretched the definition of bullying to suit their idiocy.

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