NFL To Probe Culture Of Hazing, Harassment

The National Football League is investigating reports of harassment by members of the Miami Dolphins. The team suspended lineman Richie Incognito indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the team." That conduct is tied to allegations of continued harassment made by teammate Jonathan Martin, who abruptly left the team last week.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's hear the latest on a story that is shaking up the National Football League, which is investigating reports of harassment by a member of the Miami Dolphins. The team suspended Miami Dolphin defensive lineman Richie Incognito indefinitely for, quote, "conduct detrimental to the team." That conduct is tied to allegations of continued harassment made by teammate Jonathan Martin, who abruptly left the team last week.

Joining us now to talk about the reaction of the team, the league and the players, is NPR's Mike Pesca. And this is a story that just about everybody has been reading about this morning. How are you?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi, well.

MONTAGNE: So talk to us about where the investigation stands.

PESCA: Right. Well, the league is looking into it at the behest of the Players Association, the Miami Dolphins, as you say, have suspended Incognito. They're taking it very seriously because this is not just - well, we shouldn't say just. This seems like an unprecedented thing for one player, one offensive lineman to accuse another offensive lineman of what amounts to bullying.

But then it was revealed a couple of days ago and reported that Incognito sent really vile, racist, hate-filled, actually literally death threats to Jonathan Martin. At that point the investigation took on certainly a different tenor. The league is being called to not only investigate this specifically, perhaps to reevaluate the cultural of hazing that often goes on in many locker rooms.

Interestingly, many players, quoted on and off the record, have said that Jonathan Martin needed to stand up for this. And players - black players and white players - and the racial dynamic is Martin is African-American, Incognito is white. But many players have been quoted by saying why didn't Jonathan Martin just punch Richie Incognito in the face, which I think bullying experts will say is not always the best response. But that's sort of the thing we've been hearing out of NFL locker rooms.

MONTAGNE: Well, right. Now, this whole question of hazing and often it had to do with hazing of newcomers.

PESCA: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: But is that a fact of life around the NFL? Is that why some of these reactions are coming in from players?

PESCA: Yeah. The normal course of things in most locker rooms is that especially rookies are made to carry equipment or do some sort of embarrassing things, may be sing their school fight song. Sometimes it gets pretty serious. Sometimes they're made to pay gigantic bills for going out.

Now, some coaches, Tony Dungy has said that does not happen in my locker room. Bill Walsh, and many coaches who coached under him, the very cerebral Bill Walsh, did not reward that.

But the NFL, they have a warrior mentality. Perhaps better said, is a faux warrior mentality, we're not actually talking about military actions. But the idea that a guy has a mean streak - whereas, in any other workplace, that would be seen as a problem - is unbelievably prized in the NFL.

And this is why Richie Incognito who got in so much trouble over the course of his career, and was suspended from two schools, and basically kicked off his last team, but he plays with such a chip on his shoulder that he was prized and valued for that very thing. That was an asset within the culture of the NFL.

MONTAGNE: Well, Incognito may have gone too far for at least some of his teammates and the public. But is this really the end for him? Has he got an NFL future and what about Martin?

PESCA: Yeah, it's imposs - that's a good - it's a good question, because it's hard to ponder. It's very hard to know. But, you know, Richie Incognito made the Pro Bowl last year and he's still a valuable member of the Dolphins when he's playing. And there'd been many instances where guys who've transgressed and have been suspended, have been given second or third changes.

Whereas Jonathan Martin, who has a lot of talent, is seen - I mean I can't tell how many people in personnel offices throughout the league have said: Well, he's too soft. And he has almost this scarlet letter hung around his neck. So it's a dynamic that I think most workplaces can't relate to, but that's what's going on in the NFL.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You are welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca.

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