The Miami Dolphins might well double as a modern-day cast of “Full Metal Jacket.” Maybe they think hazing and bullying are the proper ways to mold men. But if we’re going to condemn that behavior, and we should, then we can’t stop there.
National Football League locker rooms aren’t the only place where the strong prey upon the weak, like suspended Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito is accused of doing. He allegedly tormented a teammate with vile, racial taunts and threats.
But remember when hazing turned deadly with the Florida A&M University marching band?
The military institutionalized bullying by ignoring sexual assaults.
A 12-year-old girl in a Polk County middle school killed herself, and now two other students face criminal charges related to bullying. A school administrator allegedly told her she needed to develop a thicker skin. That was brilliant – tell the victims it’s all their fault.
I could probably name a hundred other examples and not come close to capturing the scope of the problem. But maybe it took throwing open the closed door of the NFL to bring fresh focus on an issue that cuts across society.
Randy Grimes was a center for the Buccaneers from 1983-92, and now works with athletes grappling with addiction and behavior issues. He remembers going to dinner with veteran teammates, and the bill came to about $500. They handed him the check.
At the end of a long practice, Grimes had to carry veterans’ shoulder pads off the field.
“I figured I was just paying my dues,” he said.
So when I asked Grimes what he thinks about Incognito, he responded with an unflattering comparison of Incognito to a human backside.
But he also said, “I understand the mentality. I’m kind of mixed. I know the game has changed and the culture has changed. Back in my day, two guys would have settled their problem, or the coach would have locked them in a room until they did.”
NFL players understand they are modern-day gladiators in a sense, performing weekly for fame, riches and the approval of the cheering audience.
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Some have said Incognito was trying to make his now-former teammate so mad he would get tougher, as if that excuses everything. Grimes said players know “who has your back, and who wants to get out of the way.”
It’s interesting, though, that former Bucs coach Tony Dungy told Dan Patrick’s national radio show that one of the first things he did here was to ban hazing. That doesn’t mean players and coaches don’t argue, insult each other, or even fight. Dungy made it clear, though, there was a line that couldn’t be crossed.
That line has gotten obliterated, and not just in Miami. Those who shrug it off as part of modern culture are mistaken. In a gladiator sport, or a marching band, or any place else you want to name, there is a right way for civilized people to behave. This isn’t it.