The alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins’ offensive tackle Jonathan Martin by teammate Richie Incognito is receiving heavy scrutiny by the media. Mixed reports continue to emerge about the nature of the environment in the Dolphins’ locker room and whether fellow teammates and coaches supported the reported bullying. Regardless, this situation raises the question of how much hazing goes on among other NFL teams like the San Francisco 49ers and what exactly goes on in their locker rooms.
49ers’ guard Alex Boone spoke on radio station KNBR this morning about his perspective on what is happening with the Dolphins. Describing the nature of the locker room as a place where players can vent after being on a practice field all day hitting each other, Boone said that people just do not understand the culture of the NFL’s locker rooms. It is not like being in an office environment where you have a Human Resources department to turn to for problem resolution. In the NFL, according to Boone, problems are resolved in the locker room between teammates. He felt that Martin should have stood up for himself and told Incognito off, punched him, or just walked away. The thing he should not have done, according to Boone, was take details of the situation public. Boone feels it should have been handled in-house and that should have been the end of it.
While Boone concedes that Incognito took it a little too far with some of his comments to Martin, Boone also feels that is something that occasionally happens among teammates and they work it out among themselves. He says the 49ers’ locker room is a family-type environment, very fun and comical, and that occasionally scuffles happen but it is not seen as a big deal. Boone emphasized that the 49ers do not have a hostile locker room whatsoever that would encourage any kind of mean-spirited hazing of players. They deal with any daily issues, such as they are, make jokes and move on.
Boone’s comments seem to mesh with those made by former Dolphins’ lineman Lydon Murtha who recently wrote about his experience in the Dolphins’ locker room with both Incognito and Martin in a blog for Sports Illustrated. Murtha clarified the context of many of the reported hazing incidents between Incognito and Martin, who was described by Murtha as somewhat standoffish from the offensive line group as a whole. Murtha said coaches encouraged Martin’s teammates to work with him to help integrate him with the rest of his teammates. While Murtha also agrees that some of the language used by Incognito was inappropriate, that does not represent Incognito as a person. Like Boone, Murtha believes that Martin should not have taken his problems public and should have handled it much differently. By leaving the team and making a public spectacle of the Dolphins, Martin may have broken an unspoken locker room code. Murtha wonders if either Martin or Incognito will be welcomed on any other team after this.
While the details of this situation between Incognito and Martin remain somewhat murky amid conflicting reports, it seems clear that the culture of the NFL locker room is hard to understand if you are not part of it on a daily basis. Perhaps this issue will bring broader awareness of the unique atmosphere in NFL locker rooms and at the same time remind people that bullying, wherever it occurs, is not acceptable.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.