With the reports that have come out regarding the Richie Incognito,
Jonathan Martin situation in Miami–bullying, verbal abuse, text
messages, getting all his teammates to get up when he sat down for
lunch–it made me think about my experiences with hazing and being a
Was Jonathan Martin being too sensitive? Not tough or macho
enough? The bottom line is whether Richie Incognito or his teammates
were joking, it wasn’t taken as a joke by Martin, to the point that he
just took his 2nd leave of absence from the Miami Dolphins (1st one in
OTA’s). But let’s go back to where I think this all started. Richie
Incognito was admittedly bullied for being big and fat, using football
to reshape his body, and trying therapy ten years ago to try and
reshape his thinking. His mother said then “I don’t think Richie will
ever stop being the way he is.” His father, Richie Sr, a Vietnam vet,
told his son “let people give you s$&t now, you’re going to take it
your whole life.” People who are abused are more likely to be abusive,
come from a home with alcoholism, and, therefore, more likely to become
an alcoholic. I’m not justifying what Richie did, just trying to
understand. There’s also a term: “break the cycle.” You have a choice
to change, not follow down the same path. Richie chose to do unto
others what was done to him, rather than change. Better to be on the
attack than be attacked. NFL people have said off the record; “(Martin)
should have handled it like a man, not told on Richie like a kid.” He
should have stood up to him, “punched him in the mouth.” As a player,
you move away from home at a young age and your team is your family.
Your coach is a father figure. When you feel alienated from your
team(family), there is no worse feeling. You go to battle together; “I
got your back, you got mine,” instead of being on an island alone.
Rookie initiations have been going on for decades. It’s a rite of
passage to earn your spot in the brotherhood, pay your dues, earn your
stripes. But good natured team bonding can go wrong. When I played
midget AAA, then major junior, I got initiated, hazed, if you will.
Some stuff, I can’t put on paper, but you shut your mouth, do it and
move on. Some stuff was fun in nature, others, not so much. Did it
suck? Hell ya! Was it embarrassing? You bet! But you do it, the vets
give you a wink, atta boy, and then you’re good. You carry and unpack
bags, pick up pucks after practice, or the vets can make your life
miserable. If you’re cocky, that can be fixed with shaving cream in
your shoes, gloves, flex-all in your helmet, jock, pant legs sewed
shut…I could on and on. The former stuff I’m okay with: carrying bags
and picking up pucks is a respect thing. But a guy who was a rookie
with me immediately said the next day, “those f-ing rookies are gonna
get it next year!!!!” Fast forward 3yrs later and I was the captain and
I made sure things didn’t get out of hand, otherwise that crop of
rookies were going to exact their revenge on the following crop.
At The NHL rookie party, you pay the tab. Everyone has to do it
once, then you get a nice free dinner once a year the rest of your
career. Guys get up and tell some jokes, maybe make the rookies dress
like cheerleaders, whatever, all in good fun. At my rookie party there
was a veteran player that said, “You’re gonna get it, shots, surf n
turf, escargot, expensive wine, you name it.” Theoren Fleury ordered
shots of Louis XIII, which were around $100 a shot. All I said was “hey
man, if your going to order it, at least drink it or eat it.” Don’t
waste it. My attitude was that I was going to pay anyways, so I might
as well have a nice steak and lobster and drink some wine that I would
never order on my own and enjoy myself.
Reports came out that Incognito was told by his coaches to
“toughen up Martin.” Is he at fault? Just following orders? Or should
he have known where and when to stop?
I guess where I’m going with this is that rookies have to do some
embarrassing things, but everyone else did it once. As long as it’s not
malicious in nature and in good, clean, fun, it can be a great way to
bond as a team and bring guys together. The problem is you can only
control what you do. It’s up to each individual how they will handle
things when they are a veteran. Personal responsibility and how we are
raised is the difference between dinner and vitriolic hate speech
combined with death threats.