The NFL’s Miami Dolphins find themselves without the services of two starting players and their franchise in turbulent waters thanks to a “hazing” scandal involving players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both offensive linemen, though in Incognito’s case, in more ways than one.
Incognito finds himself both suspended from his team and reviled nationally for crossing the line between traditional humiliation, on the one hand, and possible criminal actions, on the other, thanks to voicemails and texts laced with profanity, death threats, rape threats, and racial slurs that Incognito sent to Martin. Martin left Dolphins to weeks ago on a “leave of absence” while this matter was being investigated.
Hazing is common in the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball, though it is isolated to “rookies”, or first year players, and generally takes the form of the rookie having to carry veterans’ equipment to and from practice fields, carrying baggage to and from hotels, singing university “fight songs”, filling their cars with popcorn, or paying for veterans’ dinners while on road trips.
In this instance, Incognito went far beyond the norms, both in terms of the verbal hazing, as well as the timeframe, since the voicemail that triggered these events was left last May, some three months after the end of Martin’s rookie season, as well as within the past month.
Prompted by a firestorm of reaction around the US, the NFL head office has now instigated an investigation of the Dolphins and the rest of the NFL’s team culture. Both Incognito and Martin have been called to League office in New York City for interviews with League officials. Incognito has filed a grievance with the NFL, through his players’ union, protesting his suspension and requesting re-instatement.
Race enters into the story because Incognito is white, while Martin is black. Incognito claims that “I’m not a racist and to judge me by that one word is wrong. In no way shape or form is it ever acceptable to use that word, even if it’s friend to friend on a voicemail. I regret that.” That “one word”, of course, is the “n-word”.
Yet, surprisingly, reactions from within the NFL player community, past and present, has been far from uniform, nor is it divided along racial lines. “Jonathan Martin is a 6’5 320 pound dude.” Giants Safety Antrel Rolle said. “I think he should be able to stand up for himself.” Rolle is black. Another black player, former Jet and Raven Bart Scott disagreed: “People assume because somebody’s big….that doesn’t mean he has a pitbull mentality. You don’t need that to play football, you just need to be good at your job.”
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton of the Denver Broncos is an example of a NFL player who believes that Martin was truly the one that broke the locker room code, “I feel like, as players, when it is player- to-player, it can be handled as players. It can be addressed. I don’t think (Martin) should have gone outside the team and expressed how things are going in the locker room.”
Perhaps most surprising of all, Ricky Williams, former Running Back for the Saints, Dolphins, and Ravens, and also known as a quiet and intellectual player banned from the NFL for repeated marijuana usage violations, believes it was Martin who was in the wrong, “I think I can relate and I can speak on this because I was at a point where I was done with the NFL and I needed to take a break, but unlike Jonathan, I didn’t have to find a scapegoat or someone to blame. I didn’t have to bring anyone else down when I found out that I just couldn’t handle what I was going through at the time.”
Finally, adding irony to confusion, Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill told reporters that “If you asked Jonathan Martin who his best friend is on this team two weeks ago, he’d say Richie Incognito.”