BY JAKE GOLDMAN — Richie Incognito, an NFL player for the Miami Dolphins, has created headlines recently for allegedly bullying his teammate, Jonathan Martin. The relationship among Incognito, Martin, and their teammates has sparked much national interest in the locker room dynamic of sports teams and the presence of bullying and/or hazing. This story broke when Jonathan Martin suddenly left the Miami Dolphins after an incident in the team’s cafeteria.
Soon after leaving the Dolphins, allegations came against Richie Incognito for locker room hazing. The main piece of evidence against Incognito was a voicemail left for Martin which said, “Hey, wassup, you half n—- piece of [expletive] … I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. [I want to] [expletive] in your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face (laughter). [Expletive] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.” 1
This language is highly inappropriate and would alarm any sane adult. The verb to haze means: “to harass by banter, ridicule, or criticism” or “to hazy by way of initiation”. 2 It seems to be the case that Incognito was justifying his actions by referring to Martin as a rookie – meaning he needs to be initiated.
Martin is a second-year player. To bully means: “to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person)” or “to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by usingforce”. 3 Martin’s departure from his team is evidence enough that he is a mentally weaker person than Incognito and other teammates who may receive similar treatment. (There is an ongoing investigation by the NFL regarding the locker room behavior of the Miami Dolphins). Therefore, this is clearly a case of both hazing and bullying.
Hazing is often linked with fraternities and football – two primarily American things. However, the issue exists outside of the United States among athletes of varying ages. Eleven hockey players at a high school in the Lanigan, Saskatchewan have been charged this fall over an alleged hazing party. 4 The party is an annual event with a purpose of hazing the youngest members of the team – ninth and tenth graders. “Police were told the hazing involved male students having eggs, flour and chocolate syrup poured over them by older male students. Some of the victims suffered injuries after being paddled with a hockey goalie stick with the blade cut off.” 5 The upperclassmen face various assault charges.
This high school hockey team in Canada is probably not the only hockey team which deals with hazing and bullying. Hockey Canada issued a bulletin in September defining hazing as “an initiation practice that may humiliate, demean, degrade, or disgrace a person regardless of location or consent of the participant(s).” 6 The bulletin goes on to explain how those who are found to be connected to incidents of hazing will be punished and disciplined accordingly. It is my view that a bulletin would not be necessary if hazing were not a major issue in the sport throughout Canada.
As somebody who has played sports, I can understand the locker room dynamic of a male team. Guys are competitive and some level of initiation can help bring a team closer. But, there are clear lines that must be drawn and incidents such as the one on the high school hockey team in Canada cannot be tolerated. Additionally, the NFL’s ongoing investigation should bring much insight into the issue and will receive wide media attention to raise awareness and solve any persisting problems.