In any gathering of “elites” there’s always a sorting out process. Whether it’s in an NFL locker room, a fighter pilot’s ready room or a fraternity initiation. Because these people reached the top of their profession doesn’t mean the competition ends. Ribbing, teasing and hazing has been a part of that sorting out process since the beginning of competition. It’s always been considered a right of passage. But it takes a strong culture of respect and leadership to walk that line between bringing the “new guy” into the fold and downright abuse.
I’ve been in thousands of locker rooms and it’s a sacred place to the players who gather there, from high school to the pros. Anybody who’s ever tested themselves in that situation knows a level of hazing exists and for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s shocking. They’re appalled at it on any level.
Things are said in a locker room setting that wouldn’t be acceptable in any other situation. Ethnicity, sexual orientation, the clothes you wear the people you hang out with, nothing is off limits. But there is a line between bantering among teammates and mean-spirited comments, and everybody knows where that line is.
Somewhere in the timeline of allegedly “toughing up” of Jonathan Martin, that line was crossed.
It takes a veteran club to police that kind of behavior and the Miami Dolphins had a void of leadership in their locker room for somebody not to say “that’s enough.” There’s no excuse for Richie Incognito alleged vile language, even if he says it’s how he and Martin communicated. And there’s no excuse for Martin to accept it, pass it around to his teammates and laugh it off, only to walk out on the team 6 months after the voice mail was left.
There’s something missing to this story that’s yet to come out. And yet, there’s no situation where that’s acceptable.
The NFLPA’s Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, an African-American, said Monday night, the use of what’s commonly now referred to as the “n-word” has no place in sports, music or everyday conversation. Not among African-American’s, European-Americans or whatever ethnic group you chose to claim, locker room talk or not. Smith’s point is the historical significance of that word far outweighs any form of modern colloquial expression.
And he’s right.
Good leadership knows when to criticize and when to praise, when to tease and when to knock it off. Clearly Incognito and the leaders in the Dolphins locker room were lacking that perspective.
I’m sure there’s more to come.