Hazing in football: male camaraderie or tough-guy abuse?

SOECharlesHallmansquareBy Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


Suspended Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito during a television interview Sunday says fellow lineman Jonathan Martin used abusive language toward him and once sent him a threatening text. Martin left the NFL team last month and accused Incognito, among others, of locker-room hazing that included verbal and physical threats. He further accused Incognito of racial threats both verbal and through phone texts.

“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” claimed Incognito during the interview. “All this stuff coming out, it speaks to the culture of our locker room, our closeness, our brotherhood. You can ask anyone in the Miami locker room.”

Who’s telling the truth? Incognito? Martin?

 Tom Darden Photo by Charles Hallman
Tom Darden
Photo by Charles Hallman

The MSR last weekend asked retired NFL player Tom Darden to comment on these questions. He was an All-Pro defensive back with Cleveland (1972-81). Now a business consultant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Darden says the latest controversy disturbs him.

Darden observed, “When I played, the locker room was a sacred place. There always was a lot of joking, teasing and confrontations. But it all stayed in the locker room. I don’t understand why Martin took it public.”

He doesn’t, however, give the other side a pass: “Incognito stepped over the line,” added Darden.

We may never know the whole truth as the he-said-she-said stuff continues to emanate from Martin’s and Incognito’s respective camps. This reporter has been in enough locker rooms over the years and agrees with Darden that the locker room is like a closet and that what’s inside should remain inside. For that reason, among others, there’s limited media access to it.

But it’s safe to surmise that something happened in the Dolphins’ locker room, or too much of something, that pushed Martin to becoming a whistleblower. Some are comparing it to the “code red” defense in A Few Good Men (1992), where the Jack Nicholson character ordered it to put a serviceman in line but it went too far.

In other words, the Dolphins’ coaches, as some suggest, acted like Jack and subtly or overtly ordered a similar code. And perhaps Martin also saw the movie and decided to take proactive measures rather than not waiting for Tom Cruise and Demi Moore to show up later.

And if Incognito is right and the Miami locker room is just a big place to do whatever is needed to show unity, and the other players believed that Martin had to be tougher to be in line with them, then the suspended player acted with their blessing.

“Incognito crossed the line,” reiterated Darden, who added that today’s NFL is different than it was when he played over four decades ago. If Martin’s charges are true, “There’s no place for that, for someone to get tougher, stronger, or whatever [Incognito] was trying to do,” he surmised.

Furthermore, NFL teams today seem to promote a “take care of your brother” mentality, said Darden. This partly explains the “culture” in the Miami locker room that Incognito speaks about. “You didn’t build that type of camaraderie back then because everybody was doing their own thing,” noted Darden. “Everybody [today] wants to prove how bad they are.”

Finally, Darden looks at the Incognito and Martin hazing issue in a “two wrongs don’t make it right” vein. It seems now that it’s up to league officials to properly decide which wrong supersedes the other.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com


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