The big NFL story the last few days has been the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying story. It is evolving into a crazier and crazier story as the days progress. Our friends at The Phinsider have a great rundown of all the twists and turns.
Simply put, Dolphins 2012 second round pick Jonathan Martin left the team prior to last Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. There were some early reports it involved bullying, but nothing concrete appeared. Guard Richie Incgonito was connected to it, but he vehemently denied it. Then some voice mails came out of him threatening Martin and using the N word. There are also reports Incognito's dad has been going off on message boards defending his son and attacking Martin.
The whole story is absolutely crazy, particularly given the tough guy nature of the NFL. Bullying is a much-discussed problem for kids in elementary school and high school, but bullying can happen to even the biggest of people. As we see with this story, not even the biggest person is necessarily immune from a bully.
Jim Trotter put together an interesting column yesterday in which he posted some discussions he had with NFL team officials. While the officials recognize Incognito might not be a good person, they also question Martin in this for not handling it within the confines of the team. This is not indicative of every team in the NFL, but it is a sorry state of affairs that some of these people think Martin should simply fight back.
I get the idea of defending one's self, but it takes a lot more courage to stand up and speak out against bullying, as opposed to simply taking a swing at the person. Martin's former college coach, David Shaw, discussed this with the media yesterday.
Hazing has long been considered a part of the life of an NFL rookie. This story goes beyond that as Martin was still getting crap well into his second season. However, the issue of hazing has come to the forefront.
Former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh had his own specific thoughts on hazing. Roger Craig recently wrote about them in his foreword to Dan Brown's book, 101 Things 49ers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Friend of the site Dylan DeSimone pointed it out on Twitter. I have a copy of the book, and here is the pertinent passage:
We pushed all the young bucks in our camp, but we didn't believe in rookie hazing. That was something Bill Walsh didn't like. He said, "Why are you going to haze these guys when you might need them?" The way Bill saw it, if you hazed rookies you might get them so scared they couldn't focus on the game. You might destroy their confidence. So Bill didn't allow that.
We don't know the full context of this. Having rookies buy donuts and coffee in training camp might not be considered hazing like taping them to the goal post, or having them pay for an exorbitant meal. And we don't know what happened when Coach Walsh was not in the locker room. A lot of places have anti-hazing policies in place, but that does not always mean things didn't happen.
All that being said, Coach Walsh makes an excellent point. As a veteran, you are usually counting on rookies to help your team take the next step. It makes sense to treat them with respect and build them into the team accordingly. I know that some people will disagree with that, and this situation has brought up that to an extreme level. It is not shocking that some people on Twitter and in other comment sections are kind of disgusting with their attacks on Martin.
SB Nation's Matt Ufford discussed the NFL's lack of an anti-hazing policy, and compared it with his own time in the Marines. It's a great read, and adds a little more context to the situation.