It seems ironic that a guy named Incognito would shine a cockroach-scattering light on an issue that, as a society, we have said enough is enough.
Bullying happens. It always has. Unfortunately, it probably always will. But for bullying to reach inside the high-testosterone realm of the NFL, the case of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin has brought a public-outrage spotlight to the practice of hazing in the inner politics of the NFL locker room.
While the initial phase of the ongoing story has painted Incognito as a villain and Martin as a victim, the full story hasn't come out as to how something like that could happen. Jared Allen, who knows Incognito, said he might be labeled incorrectly.
"It's a sad deal," Allen said. "I don't know the details of it, so I can't really speak on it. I know Richie. Richie has a good heart. He really does. I know he's catching some heat right now, but from what I know of Richie, we've always had a good relationship. He's always been cool with my family. We have mutual friends. So it's a bad deal. I don't know the details, so I can't comment on it, but either way you look at it, it sucks for the kid involved who felt he had to leave an organization and it sucks for Richie – he's out of the organization right now – and it sucks for the team because neither of them is playing football right now. So sometimes things can go a little too far I guess, and this is what you've got to deal with."
Allen is an old-school type of NFL player and part of old school football includes hazing rookies. The extent to which it is done varies from player to player and team to team, but it's been a part of the locker room scene for decades. It's only when it crosses the line – when a starting left tackle leaves the team, it's clearly beyond the pale – that it gets such significant attention.
"Back in the day it was different; now you can't do anything," Allen said. "Usually it's a rite of passage you go through, so as a rookie from a football standpoint you go through stuff and that's what kind of brings you together as a team, you know? I've heard of first-rounders having to pick up a $50,000 or $60,000 tab before – back when first-rounders were making that kind of money. Heck, I can remember they forced me to drive like 20 miles outside of the way to go to one Popeye's Chicken before every flight. I was a fourth-rounder, and I had to buy chicken every single day. Dang near missing planes. The level of degrees have varied, but as a rookie I always looked at it as a rite of passage into the fraternity of the NFL. I don't know the details. I'm not going to comment on that. I know we don't do a lot of stuff around here, other than just trying to show guys the ropes and some respect. Again, you don't ever want things to go too far. It also depends on the individual. Some guys can take things more than others. Some can't. Again, I don't know the details on it. It's just a bad day altogether when that's got to be the headlines and not football."
Last year, Chase Baker was the victim of rookie hazing. Down in training camp, he was taped to a goal post and had Pepto Bismol poured over his head. Head coach Leslie Frazier was not amused and let Allen know that such antics wouldn't be condoned on his team – a point he reinforced this year when the Vikings went to Mankato.
"Going back to when we get into training camp, we go through things that you can and can't do, and that's on our list of things we're not going to do," Frazier said. When we come to training camp, talk about do's and don't's, that's one of them not to do with our rookies."
Allen came into the league with coaching legend and renowned "players coach" Dick Vermeil as his head coach in Kansas City. He retired after Allen's rookie season and was replaced by Herm Edwards. Allen said the hazing he endured wasn't severe and that young players had to earn their place on the roster and the coaches set the tone for the team.
"Vermeil, you didn't hear a word," Allen said. "The young guys weren't allowed to speak. Even Herm, (it was) be seen not heard. I would like that. For them, there was a pecking order and when you came in, you knew who the leaders were on the team and that was established. For me, it was come in and let your play speak loudly before you start running your mouth. That's how I earned my job and earned my respect by going out there working hard every day. I like that old-school way of doing things. They were great. They taught you a lot of the importance of what the crest is and the fraternity of really being in the NFL. It's really a privilege to be here, and you have to earn that right every single week."
Just as Bountygate shined a light on players getting bonuses for big hits on offensive players, the Miami situation has brought a similar spotlight to practice of hazing and bullying that takes place in locker rooms. While most players accept hazing as part of their introduction to the NFL, Allen was asked if he thinks the problems in Miami will have a ripple effect and mandate that hazing be outlawed.
"I think so," Allen said. "From a player's standpoint, I think some of the younger guys come in and there's a sense of entitlement, and you lose that work ethic, you lose that true veteran-led locker room sometimes. You've got to know who you're dealing with. You can't treat everyone the same. You can't treat every rookie the same. Some guys are more sensitive than others, but it's a sign of respect. We do little things like, ‘Go get me coffee.' Nothing too crazy, but I appreciated going through that because I had the respect of the vets. Then when it's your turn, you don't feel so bad giving it to someone else."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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