Evans goes in-depth on bullying discussion

Fred Evans believes a distinction needs to be made between bullying and rookie hazing and he doesn't believe bullying is as widespread in the NFL as it is perceived. But he is hoping the Miami Dolphins situation helps kids who have actually been bullied seek help.

The subject of bullying has become a buzz word in the NFL over the past couple of weeks in light of the revelations and accusations that have surfaced in the Miami Dolphins locker room. Left tackle Jonathan Martin left the team claiming that teammate Richie Incognito has gone above and beyond the time-honored tradition of hazing and toughening up young players.

Vikings defensive tackle Fred Evans, who used to play for Miami prior to the current regime and players like Martin and Incognito being on the roster, addressed some of the issues. He doesn't believe that such treatment in the NFL is nearly as widespread as the media has made it out to be. Like the Bountygate scandal brought to light the practice of putting a price on a player's head and paying players to injure opposing players, the Martin-Incognito situation has shined a spotlight on bullying, hazing and the practice of treating rookies like second-class citizens.

While Evans has sympathy for those who are the victims of bullying, he believes the NFL has been painted with a pretty wide brush and that the Miami malaise is an isolated incident.

"It's very case-specific these days," Evans said. "For people who have been bullied, I feel sorry for them and I hope they recover. Sometimes in situations like that, you have those instances of legitimate bullying and then you have other instances that make the real cases seem a little more questionable."

The practice of hazing NFL rookies is nothing new. It's gone on forever, just as it does in the military, college fraternities/sororities and other walks of life where the "new guy" has to pay his dues to gain acceptance from the established group. While some rookies can feel embittered about what they go through in the hazing process, to categorize it as bullying isn't a fair comparison.

"There's a difference," Evans said. "There are things you do with rookies that are called bullying or hazing and aren't always bad. There may be a fine line between doing things that are viewed as hazing, but when it crosses the line into being something that is hurtful or harmful, that's where the distinction is made."

An example of non-harmful hazing happened this fall when Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Shabazz Muhammad being forced to carry a Jonas Brothers backpack around the team facility. Evans sees that as more of the "band of brothers" type of harmless hazing that is currently being lumped in with actual cases of bullying and the distinction isn't being adequately made.

"That's camaraderie," Evans said. "That's how you build camaraderie with your teammates. We're with each other more than our families in a lot of instances. A lot of us are friends on the field and off the field. You get to know people. You know stuff about them. You can talk about a lot of things that don't involve football. You know you can trust them. Because of that, you know how to push their buttons. Everyone is different, but the basic idea remains the same. You're messing with your friends. When it's in that context, I don't see that as bullying. That's just teammates kidding around with one another."

The Martin/Incognito case has pushed the topic of bullying to forefront of national discussion. Evans is concerned that the discussion might dilute the impact of the word when it comes to actual cases of bullying, and that might make a serious problem get shrugged off as the less harmful aspects of hazing.

"The word ‘bullying' is being thrown around a lot these days because of what happened in Miami," Evans said. "I just hope it doesn't lessen the impact that should be talked about when it comes to real bullying that goes on. There have been cases where kids have lost their lives. Adults have bullied. Spouses have been bullied. I don't want to take that for granted. You just want that word to be used in the proper way – when you hear it, you automatically feel that someone is seriously being harassed. When you use that word, whoever is considered as being the bully, you're automatically viewed as a horrible person. In cases where there are bullies, that is what it is. But there are cases where somebody gets a reputation like that, it's hard to shake that – especially in today's world."

Evans believes that the Miami incident will eventually blow over, just as Bountygate has faded over time. In fact, he hopes that the case might bring more awareness to the prevalence of bullying and, in a strange way, might help open the dialogue on the subject more and help those who are victims of bullying, whether they be middle school kids or players in the high-testosterone world of the NFL.

"I don't believe that goes on in NFL locker rooms nearly as much as it has been made out to be," Evans said. "What has happened in Miami, we're finding out more information all the time and different players have had different takes on what was done, who did what to who, that kind of thing. If anything good has come of it, it has opened the eyes of a lot of people to bullying and maybe some kid who is being bullied can draw the strength to come forward if he sees that an NFL player claims he's being bullied. It's a horrible thing to happen, especially to kids, but, if this can bring more attention to the problem, maybe something good can come of it."

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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