LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Marc Trestman made the eradication of rookie hazing one of his first directives upon taking the job as head coach of the Chicago Bears, and many of the team’s players believe the move has fostered a better work environment.
At the very least, it might help the Bears avoid a controversial situation such as what Miami is currently experiencing. The Dolphins suspended guard Richie Incognito on Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team, a move that stemmed from allegations of harassment from offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who after leaving the Dolphins last week checked himself into a South Florida hospital to treat emotional distress.
“I’ve been in places where there’s been hazing, and I’ve been in places where there has not been hazing,” Trestman said. “I told the team the first night, when you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody’s here to help you win. We’re not talking about taking a helmet and walking off the field with a helmet. We’re talking about other things. The words you use, the way you act, the things you say, affect people from all different backgrounds and places. We’ve got to understand that the beauty of this game is it draws people from everywhere, from different realities and different perceptions, but that can all be neutralized through respect and using the proper language and proper words in the right place and the right time, in this building, on the field, and when we’re out in the community because we represent the entire city.”
Receiver Brandon Marshall and some of the veterans who weren’t pleased with Trestman’s order initially, now appreciate the coach’s insistence on eliminating hazing. An eight-year veteran who started his career in Denver and played with Incognito in Miami before joining the Bears, Marshall admitted he was intimidated as a rookie in 2006 when Broncos veterans put him through some of the typical hazing rituals, which are viewed by many players as a rite of passage.
Marshall said he’s seen “guys getting their eyebrows shaved, heads shaved,” but he was only asked by veterans such as former Broncos Rod Smith and Javon Walker to do “simple things” such as “stock up the room with sunflower seeds and occasionally bring in some donuts.” The receiver also carried veterans’ helmets off the practice field, making sure to do it “so it wouldn’t escalate into something serious.”
“Here, it’s different. We look at rookies differently,” Marshall said. “You have to earn your stripes, earn your place on the team, earn your place in the NFL. But as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn’t happen here. Actually, coach Trestman did a great job of really going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable from Day 1. There were some things where we were like, ‘Man, this stuff goes on in every locker room. We would love to continue to do it.’ But Coach just said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna nip that in the bud. I want guys to focus on football, and everyone just focus on their jobs and not Rookie Night or what guys might do to me the next day [in terms of hazing].’”
Rookie guard Kyle Long appreciates Trestman’s approach, but made it clear that he understands he’s a rookie who hasn’t yet paid his dues. The team’s offensive line will hold a rookie dinner at some point soon, “and I’m sure [fellow rookie] Jordan Mills and I will split the tab eventually,” Long said on “The Carmen & Jurko Show” on ESPN 1000. He and Mills are also often asked to supply dipping tobacco for the veteran offensive linemen.
Long said Trestman made the no-hazing rule “very clear from the beginning.”
“I feel that’s very conducive to a healthy workplace,” Long said. “We really appreciate that about Coach, where nobody is put ahead of anybody else. But at the same time, for you to think that we don’t understand that we are rookies, you’d be mistaken.”
Trestman’s philosophy regarding hazing comes from a 28-year coaching career, ranging from stints at college (where teams haze freshmen) to a head-coaching job in the Canadian Football League and several stops around the NFL. Trestman’s goal upon joining the Bears was to build “on the concept of respect and the growth of respect, so guys understand what we’re trying to get done here.”
Besides, he’s seen too many instances of hazing in the past that ultimately were detrimental to a team’s overall goals.
“I’ve seen the incidents. I know what it does,” Trestman said. “We’re not going to spend time having players worry about things that can’t help us win and are going to be disrespectful. I can’t speak for anyone in the National Football League on that. I’m not going to stand up here after seven weeks on the job and start speaking for the league. Our whole foundation’s built on respect for everyone in the organization, respect for the players, respect for the game, honoring the game. We’ve talked about it a lot.”