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In light of the recent harassment scandal involving the Miami Dolphins, ESPN.com asked five analysts to offer perspective on the culture of NFL locker rooms and the treatment of younger players by veterans.
Second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins last week after an incident in the team cafeteria. On Sunday, the Dolphins indefinitely suspended veteran guard Richie Incognito, who allegedly bullied Martin.
Here are our analysts' observations:
In the 20 years I've coached, a situation like this has never happened. This would never happen on my watch because ground rules would be established. It should never get to the point where the coach has to step in. The veteran players in the locker room need to make sure this is not tolerated. It's not hard to get information from people like the trainer or equipment managers to figure out what's going on because they hear the conversations in the locker room. If anything arises, or someone is being bullied, it affects the entire team. Someone has to communicate these concerns to the coach.
Coaches can't control who wins or loses, but they can control the environment in the workplace.
I believe this situation is a failure on the players' part to exercise veteran leadership. They're the ones who see situations bubble up, and they know the genesis of it. When I was vice chairman of the Indianapolis Colts and general manager of the Buffalo Bills, we had a very strong position on it. Most of what would be called "rookie orientation" involves carrying vets' pads or buying donuts on Saturday mornings, but that's as far as it goes. The situation that has developed with the Miami Dolphins is on a more serious level.
With the Colts, we had a strong antihazing policy. It had less to do with social things but was more about functional efficiency. We didn't want any player to feel ostracized and it was enforced by veteran players. The coaches are not in the locker room, nor are they monitoring calls, texts or interactions off the field. Coaches and management give players their space. It's up to the athletes to uphold the values the organization stands for.
In a very dangerous and physical game, trust is paramount. If the trust is broken, the fabric of the team is broken.
Most teams have incidents in the locker room or on the practice field, but the onus is on the veteran leadership to take care of it. If it's really bad, the coaches and management should get involved.
Ultimately, it depends on the feel of the coach. I played with coach Bill Parcells, who really had the pulse of his team. He would bring things to us that we didn't realize as players and sometimes we'd do the same.
I encountered a little rookie hazing with the Dallas Cowboys, but when it goes too far, you let someone know. There will be a confrontation, it's dead and that's it.
It's inherent in the game that you have to work with one other. Guys can't do things by themselves.
If you have a situation where it's a fractured locker room, where guys don't like each other, where guys don't enjoy one another having success, where everyone's more concerned about themselves, it's a cancer that will erode your football team.
You look at some successful teams -- they're not without issues -- but they certainly have guys who work well with one another.
When I was in Philadelphia in 2002, Donovan McNabb got hurt and Koy Detmer was our backup. We rallied around Koy because we liked him. The team saw how supportive he was of Donovan, and people genuinely wanted to see Koy have success. And when he got hurt against the 49ers, the entire team came out to see if he was OK. Situations like that -- they're unique, they're part of what makes locker rooms special.
The kind of behaviors that are being alleged in Miami are borderline childish. Those are different than anything I've ever seen, and I've seen bullying before.
This stuff in Miami is just off the charts. I just start thinking about the effort to do all that crap to another player. Who has the time? It's too much work.
I've been in both environments. There were seasons when I couldn't wait to get to the locker room. I couldn't wait to practice, and I had great relationships with teammates. And I've been in locker rooms where there was turmoil, and there were cliques.
In 1989 with the Steelers, we started out by getting beat 51-0 by Cleveland and 41-10 at Cincinnati. I remember that we had a really good locker room where we could discuss things. The environment was so good there it was a big part of how we turned it around. We started 0-2, made the playoffs and we darn near got by Denver to go to the AFC Championship Game.
There was no pointing fingers. Had the locker room been erratic, I don't know what we would have done.