The Miami Dolphins plan to cut their bullying player Richie Incognito, who was harassing his fellow lineman Jonathan Martin. Martin left the team last week after constant abuse from Incognito, such as a voicemail message saying, "Hey, wassup, you half n***** piece of (expletive)." And while Incognito's alleged firing resolves this particular instance of bullying, the episode has underscored a deeper problem for the NFL — its total lack of an anti-hazing policy.
To be fair, Incognito's behavior will likely violate the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, but there's no policy that specifically deals with hazing or bullying. Both college fraternities and the U.S. military have explicit rules for what constitutes hazing and how to deal with it. In a particularly moving piece, SB Nation's Matt Ufford notes his experience with the Marines and its strong policy against hazing and compares it to the NFL's lack of a policy.
When enacted in 1997, the Marines' anti-hazing rules faced many of the same criticisms from elder statesmen as the NFL faces now, such as one NFL executive's belief that Martin was a "coward" for not dealing with Incognito face to face. But if the Marines can update, then the NFL certainly should, Ufford writes:
"You can't have a lucrative 21st-century business paired with 20th-century ideals of masculinity that violate every H.R. department's litmus test for What Can Get Us Sued. You don't get to demand that all players act like professional adults, and then treat them like lesser employees every week."
Rookies have always dealt with some level of disrespect. Hazing in the NFL as the public knows it is often benign: rookies get funny haircuts, have to carry the veterans' pads (right), or pay for a team dinner. Of course, the NFL and the Dolphins are certainly hoping to portray Incognito as a rogue element spoiling a commonly accepted and totally appropriate practice. "This is crap," Dave Zirin at The Nation responds:
"There is a stench of complicity throughout the Dolphins organization, with teammates as well as anonymous team officials reflexively defending Incognito at every turn. ... The villain in this story is not only Incognito but a culture in football, starting at the top, that behind closed doors extols players like him whose role is to police the 'softness' of his younger teammates."
Obviously, that highly-masculine culture of football will be tough to change. But if the NFL develops a policy to address potential bullying, that's a good first step. If drunk college frat bros and direction-following Marines can handle some limitations on their pledge hazing, then the massive men of the NFL can, too.