AFC South: NFL culture reaction 131106

HOUSTON -- On Monday, a day after Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the Dolphins, Texans defensive end Antonio Smith was asked if the allegations that Incognito bullied a teammate, threatened him and used a racial slur toward him surprised Smith.

"Definitely not," Smith replied.

Smith
Incognito
Why?

"You are what you are."

Smith and Incognito have a long history. It goes even further beyond the two games in which the two have sparred in the past two seasons. They both played in the Big 12 in college with Smith at Oklahoma State and Incognito at Nebraska. In the NFL, the players who were drafted one year apart wound up in the same division, facing each other twice a year.

Of course, Smith ripped off Incognito's helmet this year during the Texans' preseason game in Miami and the ensuing swing, which didn't make any contact, led to a fine and suspension of two preseason games and one regular-season game for the defensive end. He didn't say much about it, except to say that Incognito punched him in the face and grabbed his facemask before that. It's the second time in two seasons the league has fined Smith for an incident involving Incognito.

Today Smith was asked again about Incognito, bullying and the racial nature of some of the allegations.

What was clear was that he doesn't think what's happening in Miami is a cultural problem with the NFL. He thinks hazing, when done with the right intentions, can be harmless. Rather, Smith thinks what's happening in Miami is an Incognito problem.

And while the Dolphins locker room seems to be rejecting the notion that Incognito used racial slurs hatefully, it doesn’t sound like Smith buys that. Smith's words:

"Hate is a big -- especially in this day and age -- it’s a big factor. If some of the allegations are true of things that he said or left voice messages. I don’t think that has any place anywhere. But other people believe differently.

"I don’t think in my opinion a grown man should get bullied. I think that if you realistically get bullied, there’s only one way my mom taught me and my dad taught me how to get rid of bullies as a child. I can’t say what to do in this day and age, but when I was a kid they always used to say, you hit a bully in the mouth, it’ll stop him from bullying. No matter what you hit him with."

On hazing in general:

"I don’t know what’s the particulars on it. I know that a lot of it is just football players doing what football players do. The rest of the world don’t understand, they think it’s outrageous and different things like that. In every walk of life you have your rite of passage and your traditions that you do. These are the traditions that have been passed down throughout the NFL for a long time. I think a lot of the things that (happen are) no problem, it’s just in the hands of a person that you have in charge of doing it. Like having weapons or firearms. The person who’s in charge of (the weapon) is the one you should fear, not the firearm itself.

"If you’re hazing somebody and you’re hazing them out of pure hate instead of love, then I don’t think that has a place in (football). I’ve never been around it so I couldn’t even comment on it. When we have our fun, we laugh we joke with each other, you know it’s all in love. If (allegations about Incognito are) true from what I’m hearing, from what everybody’s saying, that’s not out of love. You’re just outright stalking somebody or threatening to beat their you know what and all of that, that’s totally different. That’s not what we as football players in the NFL do for hazing or right of passage, for rookies in that league."

Does he feel vindicated?

"I don’t feel vindicated at all. That situation was what it was. I closed the chapter on that situation whether it was that situation or any other, you’re going to be the man that you are. He is the man that he is. That’s just the bottom line. It don’t reflect on me or anything, any of the situation."

On Incognito's use of a racial slur:

"When you’re generating that type of hate toward somebody, I don’t think that’s called for especially for somebody that’s supposed to be your teammate. You’re spending most of your time with these guys in the locker room, more time than you spend with your family. You grow to love a lot of your teammates as brothers as friends. Racial slurs, any kind of slurs or hate generating, I don’t think has any place in the locker room, a football locker room, a team, anywhere as a matter of fact. I don’t want to just bottle it into us. Make it all about football. It don’t have a place anywhere. But some people believe that way."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bernard Pollard draws a crowd every Wednesday when he talks in the Tennessee Titans' locker room.

I thought he was so interesting on the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin story and the idea of bullying in the NFL, I’m just going to share the bulk of it directly from him.
  • “Any organization, any person, any players, that’s something you don’t want to have to deal with. It’s a rough situation. We are on the outside looking in. I can’t put myself in the young fellow’s shoes at all. It’d be hard. But you’ve just got to hope that he comes back and that he recovers. I don’t know how bad he’s doing but I hope he recovers … I feel bad for the guy but at the same time, guys allowed it and didn’t step up."
  • “I’m going to be honest with all of you, some of y’all probably said it before. People are saying it. As far as the bullying and everything else, that’s tough. Anytime you see things like that, me as a player, first and foremost, that can’t happen. It can’t happen on a football team, it can’t be allowed. I can’t stand by and watch. Because as a leader, as a man, you don’t do that. You don’t demean somebody. You don’t bully somebody."
  • “Our motto as far as the NFL, as far as the shield, we’ve been anti-bullying. We’ve been trying to fix that with commercials and everything else. And all of a sudden now it’s going on in a locker room? That’s tough. What are we saying now, when we’re trying to tell kids at elementary schools and middle schools and high schools don’t do it but then we turn around and we’re doing it?"
  • “It’s not fair, what he did to the young man. I’m hearing everybody else’s comments, talking about how he needs to step up and be a man and he needs to handle this. That’s tough, man. I can’t sit here and say that. I’m not going to sit here and say that 'that man’s a punk for leaving.' He went through something. He might have went through something when he was younger, it took him back. We don’t know that. We don’t know the history of what has happened to that young fella. I think the league has stepped in and are doing things about it and are doing the right thing."
  • “[Incognito] is a hard-nosed guy, he plays the game of football, he does some extra stuff but other than that, and as far as his character off the field, I am totally shocked. You heard a lot of guys step up and went to bat for him, how he’s a good guy, how he’s not racist. I’m not going to call him a racist; I don’t believe he is racist. I just think he used some words and said some things that shouldn’t be said. He demeaned a guy who wouldn’t stand up for himself. And that had no place in NFL locker rooms or locker rooms period, in schools and in life.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Hazing inside locker rooms or baseball clubhouses isn’t anything new. It's been around quite some time. Rookies often have to sing in front of their teammates during training, carry helmets and shoulder pads throughout the season or bring doughnuts in the morning.

But that’s the extent of things inside the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room. And it’s not because of the accusations of what’s being reported in Miami with guard Richie Incognito and teammate Jonathan Martin.

This goes back to when Tony Dungy started coaching the team in 2002.

“When he was here, he was all about there would be none of the rookie hazing type stuff and it’s continued that way,” veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri said. “We’ve got a group of older veteran guys that don’t believe in dumb stuff and that’s the way it is.”

Having fun and cracking jokes in the locker room is expected amongst teammates. Players often joke about the type of music some of their teammates listen to or their clothing choices. But it’s all in fun. Something you would do with your close friends. The Colts are around each other on almost a daily basis from the end of July until the season ends in January or February. You can even argue that they spend more time with each other than with their own families.

But it doesn’t go overboard -- the way it’s reportedly happened in Miami -- with the Colts.

“Guys in this locker room understand what hazing is,” said cornerback Vontae Davis, who spent his first three seasons with the Dolphins. “When you can’t distinguish taking advantage of somebody from just cracking jokes, you’re not being reliable as a veteran. We know how to distinguish if we’re taking advantage of somebody or not. We hold each other accountable. We’re a big family.”

Davis declined to comment about what’s going on in Miami. Quarterback Andrew Luck, receiver Griff Whalen and tight end Coby Fleener were teammates with Martin at Stanford.

Fleener said he’s exchanged text messages with Martin but declined to go into specifics on what they talked about. He did, however, stick up for his former teammate when a reporter said Martin has a reputation for not being tough.

“I think that’s a stupid, stupid statement,” Fleener said. “If somebody wants to dispute that, I’d be happy to talk to them. It’s neither here nor there. It’s not really something that we’re focused on.”

Dungy was on The Dan Patrick Show earlier this week and said they had warning flags about Icognito coming out of Nebraska in 2005. The Colts had him on the “DNDC” list, which means do not draft because of character issues.

The Colts have a brotherhood in the locker room. There’s mutual respect from the veterans down to the rookies to the training and equipment staff. Veterans like Robert Mathis, Cory Redding and Antoine Bethea make sure they stay together and keep their focus on winning.

“If you see something that’s not right, you take care of it,” Vinatieri said. “That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t have to be an old guy to a rookie or a rookie to rookie. There’s no disrespect allowed around here from coaches to players, from players to coaches, to other staff, to the cleaning crew. If anybody gets that way, it gets shot down pretty quickly.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny says he never saw Richie Incognito bully or harass anyone while they were teammates in Buffalo in 2009, but they were only in the same locker room for a handful of games and he didn’t know Incognito very well.

Posluszny
"All I know is he came to practice, he worked hard, and he did everything he could to be a professional," Posluszny said. "So this type of stuff, what I’m hearing ... I don’t know him extremely well, but yeah, it’s surprising."

Posluszny was in his third season with Buffalo in 2009 when Incognito joined the Bills in mid-December. Incognito, who had been waived by St. Louis following a verbal confrontation with then-coach Steve Spagnuolo, played in the final three games of the season. He was a free agent and did not re-sign with the Bills after the season.

Posluszny said the allegations of bullying and harassment and use of racial slurs by Incognito toward Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin were disturbing. A little hazing of rookies and young players is fine -- he had to purchase leather chairs for the linebackers meeting room when he was a Bills rookie in 2007, for example -- but what Martin alleges happened has no place in any locker room, he said.

"There’s a fine line there that you cannot cross because at the end of the day they’re your teammates, you’re playing together on Sunday, and you want everyone to trust each other and be functioning at your best," Posluszny said. "As an older guy I never want a rookie to be able to say, 'Man, Paul was a pain-in-the-a-- veteran to deal with.' I never want that to be the case. I’d much rather them say, 'Man, he really helped me out. He taught me some things.'"

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