METAIRE, La. -- New Orleans Saints players repeatedly stressed Wednesday that they don't know all the details of the drama going on with the Miami Dolphins, so it was impossible for them to take a firm stance for or against anyone involved.
And that's important, they explained, because there is a fine line in the NFL between pushing a teammate and recognizing when it goes too far.
Veteran leaders like quarterback Drew Brees and offensive tackle Zach Strief both strongly condemned the racial slur that Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito reportedly left on a voicemail to teammate Jonathan Martin.
"That's hatefulness," Strief said. "If the voicemail is indicative of the other things that are being said, [it's] absolutely 100 percent unacceptable. There's no excuse for it. ... And that's not a football issue, that's not a locker room issue. That's a life issue."
But both players also explained that it is incumbent on leaders like themselves to find constructive ways to motivate teammates. And players young and old all agreed that they don't have a problem with rookies paying their dues by doing things like buying expensive meals, making coffees and protein shakes and carrying pads, etc.
No one brought up any personal experiences that they felt went too far.
"I can't speak to what's going on there," Brees said. "But if something's going on and you're like, 'Hey, somebody's taking it too far with another player,' then guys will step up and say, 'Hey listen, man, back off him a little bit, give him a break, cut him some slack' or whatever. But there are plenty of times where, 'Hey this guy's dragging' and everybody in the position group is like, 'Hey we've got to get this guy going, so let's get on him.'
"I imagine that stuff happens in the military all the time. I'm not saying you'd call a 'Code Red,' but you do what you can to help motivate, inspire, lead, get the best out of your players. Coaches doing it to players, players doing it to players. That stuff happens. It's part of this business. It's very competitive."
Asked if it's actually possible for a grown man to be "bullied," Brees said, "I mean, I don't know if bully is the right term. Because typically I think you'd say that about somebody who can't protect themselves or can't defend themselves. But listen, there's all kinds of verbal abuse that takes place inside a locker room. And 99 percent of it is in jest. But maybe there's a little bit of truth to everything that's said in jest. I think that's why some of the best motivational tactics from coaches and players have been when you're messing with a guy and you might say something about their performance and their work ethic or something like that. ...
"These are motivational tactics. Now, like I said, the whole racism part of it, I do not agree with at all. But as far as everything else, we just don't know. We don't know because we're not there. And even if something was reported a certain way does not mean it was fact."
Strief brought up a specific example from earlier this year where he had to start "riding" younger players.
"You could ask some of our guys, I'm not the easiest vet in the whole world," Strief said. "I'm not gonna accept a guy showing up late. I mean, we had some stuff earlier with our guys where we said, 'Hey, that's not OK.' And yeah, I'll go to them and say, 'Hey, you're coming in at 7 in the morning now because you can't come in on time. I'm gonna call you every night like a little kid to make sure you know what time the meeting is.' That's riding a guy, right? Now, you could turn around and say that's a good thing for him, too. And I think that's where you start looking at, 'Is the extra attention, is that extra pushing done for a positive reason? And is it done in a positive way?'
"It can still come across as tough. But the words that I saw, that's not riding somebody. That's hatefulness. That's how I feel about those words I saw -- knowing that I didn't hear that message and I wasn't there when he said it. But on the surface, that's not riding a guy. ... If what is said is true, I think it's completely unacceptable, 100 percent. And it's on a lot of people. It's on players in that locker room that allow it to go on. It's on anyone that knew about it that didn't step up and say something."
Other players echoed the comments of Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette, who said, "It's tough, man, it's tough. It's like you really can play both sides here. I feel sorry for the kid -- Martin. I've never been part of a situation where there's hazing."
Coach Sean Payton agreed that he doesn't know the Dolphins circumstances. But he insisted that it is important for a team to have the proper leadership and atmosphere in place.
"I think we play close attention to the infusion of new players," Payton said. "I think we've got, to a credit of our leadership, we've got a real good culture in regards to developing young players."