Thursday, November 7, 2013
NFL Nation Says: Coaches or players?
By Kevin Seifert
The NFL is investigating the troubled relationship between Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin, right, and Richie Incognito.
How did the Miami Dolphins' locker room descend into a pit of apparent bullying and harassment, amid racist undertones, less than halfway through the 2013 season? Perhaps a better question is this: In this country's most primal game, what prevents such instances from happening more often?
ESPN's NFL Nation sought an answer this week as the Dolphins dealt with fallout of a seedy voicemail from lineman Richie Incognito to teammate Jonathan Martin, part of a larger story that culminated when Martin left the team last week. The consensus: Coaches maintain ultimate responsibility for the locker room, but in reality, players handle and police the interaction within.
That job falls to veteran leaders and/or captains; Incognito was considered both by the Dolphins. That twisted dynamic, said retired NFL linebacker Ben Leber, helps explain how the situation got out of hand in Miami.
SportsNation: Martin vs. Incognito
Whose side are you on in the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito conflict? Should players police NFL locker rooms? Vote
"The Dolphins are a young team," said Leber, who played 10 seasons for the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. "Richie was elected a team captain, and in that situation, I wonder if many of their guys felt intimidated by him indirectly. You're not going to tell an older captain what to do. From the sounds of it, he's a hard guy to deal with anyway.
"It's almost as if their culture in the locker room assisted in Richie getting away with this. No one else his senior could step up and tell him not to do it. If you have a thug as a team captain, it's hard to tell him to cut it out."
"Everybody else is younger than him," said Scott, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets over 11 seasons. "So he's kinda the guy they are looking to be a leader. And that's bad when one of your oldest guys is one of your worst guys and having to lead. ..."
Below, you'll find thoughts from active players around the NFL, all of whom were asked this question: "Who's more responsible for making sure hazing/bullying is kept under control in NFL locker room: the players or the coaches?"
NFLN Says: Who's More Responsible?
Coach [Marc Trestman] got his point across from the first day he got here. Coach is like: "I want my guys, I don't care if it's a 12-year veteran or a rookie, I want you focused on football." So all that other stuff, do that on your own time. But when we're here, in this building a rookie, he's another man, and he's important to this team. He's not less of a man than any other guy.
-- Chicago WR Brandon Marshall, as told to ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright
In this situation, it's hard for me to believe another grown man was bullied unless you allow it to happen. You give that situation a chance to spread. It's a messed up situation. I don't see anything wrong with Martin coming out and having a little brawl with the guy. You show you're a man, you show you still have a place here. When dudes overstep the boundaries, there's so many outlets. You've got player developmental directors, you've got other players, you've got coaches. That situation got out of hand. ... You're not supposed to break a guy. You're not supposed to make him feel he has no way out of a situation. Absolutely, he does. He's a man at the end of the day, and he has to provide for his family.
-- Philadelphia CB Cary Williams, as told to ESPN.com Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan
If there's a problem I hope the guys around here would be able to come to me or Poz [linebacker Paul Posluszny] or [center Brad] Meester or whoever they feel is the leader and say how they feel without getting any backlash. ... Now I'm not a big hazing guy. I'm not a big hazing guy at all, but at the end of the year we are going to have a running back dinner. Granted, we're not going to spend -- let me put it this way, your money goes off where you were drafted. We're not going to have a fifth- or sixth-rounder pay $30,000. Come on, let's be reasonable. ... You've got to go through it and that's just part of being -- I don't want to say it's part of being accepted -- but it's just part of our culture, this NFL culture.
If somebody sees something, you have to kind of handle it internally. Somebody needs to step in and take care of it before it gets turned into a real problem. I guess that's what didn't happen there. ... Let's separate a voicemail from hazing because that's not hazing. That's an anomaly. That's a tremendous lapse in judgment. It has nothing to do with hazing in my opinion. Hazing is haircuts, hazing is filling a guy's car with package bubbles, putting water under their door at the hotel. It's pranks, it's carrying a helmet, all that stuff but all the while being respectful of that person and also sensing if somebody isn't well equipped to handle that and kind of tapering off a little bit.
-- St. Louis DE Chris Long, as told to ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner
We're not a hazing team. That's not what we are about. Anybody who comes into our locker room is a teammate. You don't have to earn your stripes that way. ... Ray Rice is huge into the anti-bullying campaign. It's all of us who have kids who feel very strongly about that. So, as older adults, parents, coaches, teachers, I would think that we would be all over that in our society right now, especially with computers and all the different things that are going on with social media. That's our responsibility to train our kids how to treat one another.
-- Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, as told to ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley
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. Look, all I have to go on is what a voicemail said. And if the voicemail is indicative of the other things that are being said, absolutely 100 percent unacceptable. There's no excuse for it. If that's said at any point, under any circumstances, it's just not right. And that's not a football issue, that's not a locker room issue. That's a life issue.
-- New Orleans T Zach Strief, as told to ESPN.com Saints reporter Mike Triplett
Everybody is different. Everybody is not built the same. What may affect you, it may not bother me and vice versa. It's the same way with how coaches deal with players. Some players can take getting cussed out and yelled at in front of everybody. It'll make them play better. And then some players, they go into a shell and they get worse. So you've just got to know your personnel and who you're dealing with. But you know, you see a little hazing here and there. We joke around in the D-line, but we all love each other. If you mess with one of us, you're going to have all of us on your head. That's the main thing.
-- Cincinnati DE Michael Johnson, as told to ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey
I think I've got a pretty good feel for the guys in there. Obviously, that's something that you always want to keep a close eye on and keep monitored. But I don't think we have any issues with any of that type of stuff on this football team. And really that was a point that we tried to make in training camp: not really hazing the rookies. We need everybody and if we're going to get this culture the right way and if we're going to win football games like we believe we're capable of winning, then we're going to need everybody in that locker room. I think ultimately that's my responsibility.
-- Oakland coach Dennis Allen, as told to ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez
It's the players. But how do you police it if you have your most esteemed vets doing it? Others have to have the responsibility and step up. It's the same line that's drawn across the line in society. You don't put your hands on somebody. You don't say racial things or derogatory things about their family. It's the NFL. I think the rookie dinners are part of the game, especially if you're a high draft pick. That's a big deal. Now, if it's a rookie dinner every week? No. It's either one at the beginning or one at the end. But it's not, "We're going to Vegas and give me 15." That makes the players not want to be around you.
-- Washington LB Nick Barnett, as told to ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim
There's only so much the coaches can do. They are not in the locker room every day. They only hear so much about what's going on so what can you do if you're getting everything secondhand. ... I think it falls on the players and you've got to police it. Like I just said, there's a decent way to do everything. Even if you are going to do hazing, there's a decent way to do it. I feel like this is part of being a rookie but we still love you like a brother. That's a way to do it versus saying it's part of being a rookie and you're not equal to us.
-- Detroit WR Nate Burleson, as told to ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein