Opportunity for change
I asked most of my clients (active and retired) about the Dolphins situation and I pretty much got a unanimous response.
This is what they said: One, the situation never should have left the locker room. Two, Incognito pushed the limits too far on a teammate. Three, Martin broke a long-standing covenant of trust by taking his issue public. They also said that the media is making a mountain out of a molehill. And it’s my understanding that’s how all the Dolphins players feel as well. And for that they blame Martin and his camp. And losing to the winless Bucs on Monday Night Football will most likely deepen the resentment. Thus, the plot worsens.
As an agent, I would have to look at the situation as if, “what would I do if I represented both players”. And because of that, I am sensitive to both players current position. Therefore, I can’t take a side. Additionally, I don’t have all the information to do so. Not too many people really do besides Incognito, Martin and the O-line.
The longer this issue goes unresolved and the more outsiders get involved, the snowball will continue to gain momentum and grow bigger.
The NFL and its players are powerful weapons against social misconduct. Let’s rally and use this issue as an opportunity to reset cultural differences, raise new standards of conduct, and leverage this situation for a constructive outcome for all. It’s a better alternative to filing lawsuits and ruining careers.
Let’s shake out a few facts and look for solutions and turn this situation into a positive for all:
An inherited working condition: Just like injuries, concussions, stress and criticism, there is a certain level of emotional and mental toughness that is expected to survive as an NFL player. It comes with the territory.
There has been and are many players who are paid a premium for their nastiness on the field and their leadership in the locker room to “set a tone” for the team. Hazing, testing personal boundaries, and creating an alpha pecking order has been going on in high school, college football and the NFL for over 60 years. This is not new; it’s been the norm. I am not saying that Incognito’s specific actions, allegedly done, are the norm but it has been going on for a long time. There have been a lot of worse things that have happened that never reached the public’s ears. Differences in the locker room (like in hockey) are usually settled physically in practice or somewhere else. Then it’s usually over. This is and has been the football environment for a long time.
In discussing this with my clients I heard some incredible locker room hazing stories. For example, one veteran pro bowl player had a cattle prod in his locker. If anybody did anything that he considered stupid, he would zap him. It hurt like hell. A well known QB once paid a moving company to move all the furniture, all belongings and everything down to the silverware, in a teammate’s apartment into his basement. It was Christmas Eve. The victim was pissed of course but these two guys are now the very best of friends.
Many incidents of bullying and hazing have pushed NFL players to quitting, fighting or even getting mentally stronger. The public rarely ever gets wind of it because the covenant of the code of silence in the locker room is rarely compromised.
(By the way, when it comes to hazing or bullying, college is ten times worse than the NFL.)
Facts, solutions and opportunities:
Not as bad as you think: With the reports coming out of Miami about hazing and bullying, I believe the general media is painting a picture to the public that doesn’t really exist across the board. I think that’s one reason you don’t see the Commissioner making a big deal out of it, like he did the bountygate in New Orleans. The Dolphins situation has been open for public debate and has been put on the main media stage. And yes, even though there have been many worse situations that usually end up in two or more players fighting, things usually get resolved and the players grow closer together, not further apart.
For every hazing incident in the locker room there are 25 stories of guys helping each other, taking care of each other and getting each other’s back. Tom Brady will, as he has done to one of my journeyman players that just got picked up, come over, introduce himself and give the stranger/new teammate his cell number and say call me if you need anything at all. Other Vets will bring rookies home for Christmas and Thanksgiving without hardly knowing them making sure they don’t spend that time alone. This too is the cultural norm for the NFL locker room.
When young players come in trying to take a vets job, it’s usually the vet whose job is in jeopardy and he is the one helping the young player the most. This is also the norm. When a player has a really bad game, it’s typical for other players to take him out and rally around him. This too is the norm. The culture in the locker room is more family than you can imagine. Just ask Johnny Jolly of the Packers or Chuck Pagano of the Colts.
Set a zero tolerance standard for racial slurs: I think the most disturbing component of the Dolphins saga is the open use of racial slurs by Incognito. Although his intentions in using it may have been in jest, as he claims, there is no excuse for racial slurs to be used by any NFL player (white or black), in any context.
This is a great opportunity to erase slurs (or any variations thereof) from all NFL players’ vocabulary, which of course will trickle down to our youth. The NFL is spending time, money and energy in restructuring tackling and hitting procedures to prevent concussions, so why not apply the same formula to create a racial harmony campaign. After all, locker rooms in all sports are the intersection and melting pot for cultures, ethnicities and races to interact, work together and grow together.
It’s not too late: Unlike many others, I do believe it’s not too late to salvage this situation for the Dolphins. Think about how many personal issues come up in any other workplace, whether it’s IBM, UPS, the Armed Forces, or Boeing. It’s daily and common. But this is the NFL in a time where the media and particularly social media has a sense of entitlement to any on goings behind the curtain. Thus, the issue won’t go away. So now the respective parties have dug in with damage control advisors, attorneys and dueling 60 minute type interviews, which won’t do anything but make matters even worse.
I believe the way to end it now is to turn it into a positive so everyone can win. For starters we have to get Jonathan and Richie in the same room, then with the Dolphins O-linemen. I guarantee they would work it out and come out of it as a stronger more mature unit. Two, get both players back working together right away. Three, use the situation to bring attention to bullying, racial harmony, and the elimination of racially charged epithets. The NFL and its players are powerful weapons against social misconduct. Let’s rally and use this issue as an opportunity to reset cultural differences and set a great example for our youth.
Joe Philbin and his staff are stand up guys. Philbin is one of the most honorable men in coaching at any level. Firing him is not a solution to this issue. We forgave a lot of players in this league for more horrible acts. We gave them second chances and even helped them resurrect their careers. Both Incognito and Martin can most likely benefit from some clinical help in managing their personal demons and/or insecurities. I am certain if both players work out their differences man to man the old fashioned way, address the team together, create a new standard of mutual respect and maturity for their own locker-room, everyone will win and this will become a positive touchstone for years to come.
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