Dolphins’ hazing culture is inexcusable

From the Sidelines November 14, 2013 0 Comments

by Clark Groome

Scientists have long believed that dolphins (the aquatic mammal not the football player) are among the gentlest, most intelligent creatures on earth. The stories about them saving and protecting humans are legion. Dolphins even get along with sharks.

Their namesake Miami Dolphins (now it’s time for football players) used to be viewed as one of the classiest organizations in the NFL. That reputation has come a cropper. The reason? Dolphins’ offensive lineman Richie Incognito was accused of bullying his teammate Jonathan Martin who was so traumatized he left the team.

To put things into perspective: Rookies on professional sports teams are often subject to hazing. You’ve probably seen rookie relievers at Citizens Bank Park carrying the balls and other equipment out to the Phillies bullpen, sometimes wearing a silly boa.

Rookies are often required to buy the veterans a fancy dinner. (Remember that all these guys, even the lowest paid players, make a ton of money, so a $3,000 dinner for 20 is no great burden.)

There may be other relatively harmless “traditions” to let the rookies know that if they want to be part of the team they have to earn it.

While much of this is childish, the kind of behavior that many college fraternities have long since abandoned, most of it has been accepted as part of the culture.

What happened in Florida went well beyond that. It’s suspected there was physical bullying and there certainly was cyber-bullying. Incognito, who is white, sent tweets about Martin, who is black (and no longer a rookie), that used racial slurs and challenged his sexual orientation.

The result of all this, in addition to the trauma that caused Martin to leave the team, was that Incognito was suspended. The NFL has engaged an independent counsel to investigate.

As alleged, Incognito’s behavior is inexcusable, juvenile and inhumane. How could it possibly help the younger Martin become a better player, a tougher lineman or more bonded to his teammates? Bullying is serious stuff. Even when done as a joke or as part of a culture’s macho traditions, it can lead to disastrous consequences.

The number of teenaged girls who commit suicide as a result of cyber-bullying is on the rise.

Perhaps the most infamous incident was at Rutgers a couple of years ago. Tyler Clementi, who was gay, ultimately jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate videotaped and then posted on the Internet Clementi’s romantic encounter with a new boyfriend. It was anything but the “joke” his roommate claimed it was meant to be.

Schools, businesses and governments are working hard to diminish the number of these incidents and to penalize the perpetrators.

But this Dolphins story has an even more odious element.

None of the Dolphins’ players (most of whom reportedly want Incognito reinstated), coaches or even management have condemned what happened.

A lot of players, both Dolphins and others, have said that it’s no big deal. Martin got what he deserved. He needed to “man up” and not react to the bullying. That’s a classic case of blaming the victim.

There were some Dolphin teammates who said that Martin and Incognito were “best friends.” If that’s to be believed, Incognito had a very strange way of showing his best friend he cared. Was challenging his manhood and attacking him with the “N” word on Twitter really an affectionate, supportive approach to friendship? Hardly.

Martin looks like the abused spouse who always justifies the abuse by saying “he didn’t really mean it.” That’s horse hockey, as an old English teacher of mine would have said.

As for the coaches, they did the Pontius Pilate thing by saying that they don’t get involved with these players’ issues. They let the kids take care of it themselves.

Well that didn’t work. Someone has to step up and say that the kind of behavior to which Martin was subjected is inexcusable. It has to be rooted out everywhere in pro sports. If a player isn’t measuring up, deal with that, but not this way.

If there are similar incidents in the future, let the bullied player have the ability to report it to management without fear it will exacerbate the problem.

Imagine how embarrassed those aquatic dolphins would be if they knew what their namesakes in Miami were doing. We all should be.

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