The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 11, 2013

NFL is a business, not 'Animal House'

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — What are we to make of the whole ugly situation surrounding the Miami Dolphins?

The whole mess came to light recently when offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team, he says, because he was bullied by teammates — led by fellow o-lineman Richie Incognito — treatment that included threats of violence and racial epithets.

Incognito, however, says he looked upon Martin as a “little brother,” and he told Fox Sports he had “Jon Martin’s back,” that the threats and racial slurs were common practice in NFL locker rooms.

Another report has surfaced alleging Dolphins’ coaches told Incognito to “toughen up” Jonathan Martin.

In my limited experience covering Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys games, NFL locker rooms are no place for the faint of heart. They are populated by large, highly motivated men fueled by competitive fire, huge salaries, bigger egos and buckets of testosterone. It is certainly no place to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Hazing has long been a part of life in the NFL. In his 1966 book “Paper Lion,” the late George Plimpton wrote about Detroit Lions’ rookies being made to stand on their chairs in the team’s training camp lunchroom and sing their college fight songs.

Rookies have been made to carry veterans’ helmets and pads to and from the practice field. They have been duct-taped to the goalposts at the end of practice. They have been set upon in the team’s locker room, bound with tape and had hot analgesic balm applied to their genitals. They have been made to buy lunch or dinner for veterans, tabs often running into the thousands of dollars. They have been held down and had their hair cut into ridiculous ’dos.

Veterans say it’s a matter of tradition, of team-building, of promoting camaraderie, and of stripping away the egos of high draft picks who have been alpha dogs all their football lives and now must learn to be just one of the pack.

No matter what you call it, this type of behavior is boorish, childish and completely inappropriate in the workplace. The NFL needs to step in and put a stop to it.

An NFL team is not a fraternity, it is a business. It is a group of grown men being paid extremely well to put a winning product on the field. These men are not brothers in arms, they are business colleagues.

If coaches don’t think one of their players is “tough enough,” they shouldn’t trust it to a fellow player to try to beat, wheedle or cajole toughness into him. If the player is not living up to the standards of the organization, coaches have the power to fire him, just like any employer. NFL players have contracts, but most of their money is not guaranteed.

I don’t know if Richie Incognito is a good teammate, or if Jonathan Martin isn’t tough enough to survive in the rough world of professional football.

I do know bullying and intimidation has absolutely no place in a professional setting. I once worked with and for a bully. It is a miserable existence. It taught me one thing: I will never put up with that kind of treatment again, and would not stand idly by if I observed a fellow employee being so mistreated.

It has been suggested Jonathan Martin simply stand up to and physically confront Richie Incognito, not an unreasonable suggestion given the fact Martin is 6-foot-5, 312 pounds, and Incognito is 6-foot-3 and 319.

But he shouldn’t have to do that. It is time for the NFL to put a stop to hazing. The National Football League is a multi-billion-dollar entertainment conglomerate, not some sort of “Animal House” style fraternity.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.