Opinions vary wildly on the mess in Miami. This weekend, we caught up with two veteran NFL players from the same team and asked them the same set of questions. One plays offense, one plays defense. One is black. One is white. Both had strong opinions, but they also stressed that the locker room is a complicated ecosystem unto itself.
We promised them anonymity in exchange for total honesty, and that's what we got -- happily.
"This is something people have been talking a lot about, but they don't really understand it," the offensive player said. "So hopefully this will help."
Who do you side with, Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin?
Offensive player: I was kind of mad at Martin initially because I didn't like the fact that Martin brought this private thing into the public eye, so I thought that wasn't very fair of him.
Defensive player: I side with Martin. Every locker room has different dynamics in it, but the people in Miami shouldn't have been so comfortable allowing people to use the N-word.
As far as hazing goes, if it's done with good intentions to bring team morale, or the intention of paying dues, I'm all for it. But if you're just doing it to try to get laughs, I'm opposed to it.
Have you felt bullied inside an NFL locker room?
Offensive player: No, I haven't felt bullied. I went through the initiation thing as a rookie, but none of it was malicious.
I had to buy breakfast every Friday for the guys from wherever they wanted, then some of the guys would give me their keys and I would have to get their cars washed.
Defensive player: No. The term "bullying" is a flavor-of-the-month term, and I don't know how another man can be bullied. But you can be harassed, or you can have a moment where you need to stand your ground.
It should never get to the extent of talking about someone's family members or making a guy pay for a trip they're not going on. You know the lines you cannot cross, and I think the lines got blurred in Miami. Nobody was able to say, "It's funny, but you just took it too far."
Is bullying a legitimate way to toughen a player up?
Offensive player: No, but I have heard some coaches say that before: "Maybe bully him, maybe encourage him to be tougher."
I don't think I have bullied, but I have been a little aggressive as far as questioning his toughness. I think it's pretty common, but at this point I'm not sure how valid that is as far as making somebody tougher.
Defensive player: Bullying is not the answer. But we play a very physical game, it comes with a physical mindset and requires hard-nosed coaching. It also requires players being 100 percent real with each other. We listen to people who we think care about us. We don't listen to someone who's going to scare you into doing something.
Has a coach ever asked you to toughen up a teammate?
Offensive player: Yes, but I do it my own way. Rather than picking on someone, I'd encourage him, even if it's to convince him not to miss time for a high ankle sprain. I tell him about the injuries I've played through and put it on the table and have them think about it. I let them know, "This isn't college anymore. This is your job. You need to be a little tougher."
Defensive player: No, and I came into the league with some old-school coaches -- I mean, Gregg Williams drafted me. But I was never told to pick on a player to get him to buy in. I have let players know that things are not going to go their way and they need to persevere through that. With younger players, you have to break the mindset that you're going to ever feel 100 percent healthy. You never feel 100 percent healthy in this game.
What's the largest amount (in dollars) that teammates have made you pay for a tab?
Offensive player: I've heard through my agent of some guys having to pay $10,000 for stuff, but I never had to pay for much personally. I'd have to spend $25-$35 for breakfast or $25 for car washes. O-lines and defensive backs are a little different, though. They're big groups of guys, and when someone says, "You're going to buy us dinner," you have to take part.
Defensive player: When I was a rookie, I had to pay a $3,000 dinner bill, split between two other guys. Sometimes these dinners get out of line because people start ordering bottles of wine and bottles of liquor and taking them home. There's only so much meat you can eat.
Which player do you think is the next Richie Incognito?
Offensive player: I don't know who it will be, but absolutely there's someone out there. I never experienced hazing in college and I never really had to experience it in the NFL. But there are some older players who experienced excessive hazing in college and when they were younger in the NFL. As a result, they feel the need and the importance of doing stuff like Richie did.
Defensive player: I'm sure there is, even though you'd like to think he's not out there. I wish we had an HR department, like most people do. Players should have that same luxury without being called soft. You shouldn't have to punch someone in the face or leave the team.
True or false: The Dolphins locker room situation has been blown out of proportion.
Offensive player: I'd say false. He left the team, Richie Incognito said the N-word, and I think that now makes it really extreme. People don't understand the locker room in the NFL. They don't want to understand it or they shouldn't have to understand it. There's something about the dynamic that's inappropriate for civilized life -- the language, the music, the interactions can be physical and angry and loud. It's a place where it's OK to be a macho a--h---.
Defensive player: True. I just think we haven't heard both sides entirely yet, and people are making judgments.
Is the N-word ever used jokingly by white players in the locker room?
Offensive player: Yes, and I've heard the thing about a white guy being an honorary black person and being able to use that word. That's going back to college. Not necessarily on this team, but on my college team and on other teams.
Defensive player: No. I'm African-American, and I don't use the word myself. But there are some guys who are white who could use it and you'd know they weren't using it as a racial term. But they know what the word means, and they choose not to use it. I think that's the smart way to handle it.
If a player left the team as Jonathan Martin did, would he be welcomed back?
Offensive player: That's a really tough question. I had a really hard time when I heard he left the team. But then once all the stuff came out about how worn down and how racially motivated the speech was, I realized I would have needed to take it into consideration. It impacted him in a way I didn't understand at the time. I would hope I'd be able to welcome him back, but it would be difficult.
Defensive player: Yes. At the end of the day, you try to get 53 guys who have all the same goal in mind, and that's winning a championship. He had to be going through something pretty tough to leave his workplace and say, "I'm done with this."
I might want to look in the mirror and ask myself, what could I have done differently?
Have you ever been called any gay slurs by teammates or coaches?
Offensive player: Sure. Yes. I've been called racial slurs, too. It's something that happens.
Defensive player: I have. The older you get, the more you realize you could use different language to get your point across. There are other words in the English language you could use to try to make your point than to use those slurs.
I will say, the language in the NFL locker room and out on the field has drastically changed in the last three or four years. People are more conscious of what they're saying. Understanding that a word just isn't a word anymore.