BY Art Thiel 07:30AM 11/07/2013

Thiel: Seahawks join search for locker-room line

Seahawk Doug Baldwin is defending fiercely his friend, Jonathan Martin, who walked away from bullying. Miami players are defending Richie Incognito. It’s complicated.

Doug Baldwin, here against Jacksonville, was dismayed with the scorn heaped upon his friend and former teammate, Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Michael Robinson doesn’t know about NFL rookies having to pay out $32,000 in dinner tabs for veterans. But he does know about $7,000, because that’s what he paid eight years ago as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers, a bill he said was worth it because it brought him a little locker room peace.

“It happened, but only once,” said the Seahawks fullback. “I didn’t complain about it, so it didn’t happen anymore. If guys go along with it as a rite of passage, and not just (as if) somebody (was) picking on you, it’s all good. I didn’t get bothered again.”

A Seahawk who was bothered Wednesday was WR Doug Baldwin, not about Robinson’s bill but about what was happening to someone he called “a great friend.”

Jonathan Martin, Baldwin’s former teammate at Stanford, was at the center of a national controversy after he left last week the Miami Dolphins, where he was a starting guard. He said he was harassed and bullied — and virtually shaken down for cash — by teammate Richie Incognito, a longtime football badass now suspended and apparently thrown off the team.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the reaction that’s been generated by this,” Baldwin said Wednesday to reporters, referring to the criticism of his friend. “A lot of people might say Jonathan is soft in stepping away from the game: ‘Why don’t you just fight him?’

“Look at him with common sense, and be logical: What option would he have? He could fight Richie Incognito. He could go tell on him (to coaches), which we know in a football locker room doesn’t go over well. Or he can remove himself from the situation and leave the proper channels take care of it.

“I think he made the right, intelligent choice so that he didn’t put himself or Richie in physical danger.”

The takes from the Seahawks locker room are two of many emerging daily from yet another fascinating sidebar story from the national sports passion for the NFL. This one is as old as childhood: Bullying.

What the hell was this episode? Was it merely a prank gone bad, a ritual with deep tradition, a test of manhood, a player unfit for the job or the closing act of a pathological menace?

To hear the Dolphins talk about it Wednesday, they were supportive of Incognito, despite the so-far-undisputed evidence of his voice and text messages to Martin filled with threats to him and his family, racial epithets and other vulgarities.

Typical was this from Dolphins offensive tackle Tyson Clabo: “I think if you have a problem with somebody — a legitimate problem with somebody — you should say, ‘I have a problem with this,’ and stand up and be a man. I don’t think what happened is necessary. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was in disbelief because he believed the two linemates were friends. Coach Joe Philbin said he knew nothing about it until Martin left the team and checked himself into a Fort Lauderdale hospital. The NFL is investigating, the players union is trying to defend both parties, and the Dolphins play Tampa on Monday Night Football missing 40 percent of their starting offensive line.

As the maelstrom swirls, Baldwin may be among the few who have spoken to Martin. He defended his friend’s character and lashed out at those who question it.

“I talked to him, to make sure he’s all right,” Baldwin said. “For anyone to say you’re soft or you can’t handle it, it’s ridiculous. It’s disappointing that anyone even has to question (Martin’s character). It’s pathetic.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll attempted to inject a little levity, saying he came by his disdain for the hazing tradition in his first NFL year as an assistant coach in Buffalo. A barber hired to give haircuts in training camp was set up by the older assistants to chowder up Carroll’s ‘do.

“The coaching staff got a big kick out of it,” he said, smiling. “It was a bad haircut, I’m telling you. A three-weeker.

“I thought I never wanted to be part of that again.”

Carroll turned serious, talking about the coaching responsibility to act as parents would with their own children who may pick on others.

“We have to do a really good job of not allowing them to make the decisions on how far they can go with stuff,” he said. “If we do (let players have free reign), then we are subject to being disappointed. I think we have to be really strict about what we’re doing, so we had a strict (team anti-hazing) policy about it.

“There’s still a feeling (about) the rites of passage that sometimes exist in a lot of areas of our society. It can be mishandled and misused, obviously. The fact that we’re so aware of it now is really important. People need to be treated well and dealt with properly. It just seems like the right thing to do to not take advantage of people who really don’t have much to say for themselves, don’t have a voice.

“I think this has been exposed enough that we should all make these decisions very easily now. It’s so obvious.”

Many particulars of this episode, such as who else was involved, who knew what, and Martin’s state of mind, aren’t yet obvious. But the general scenario is as old as childhood, and prevalent in many workplaces and schools. Ask most any soldier, cop or firefighter, and some women athletes as well, for a story, and they will have had one or know one.

In any higher-risk job environments where alpha personalities fill the room — not to mention board rooms on Wall Street or Seattle’s Amazon.com HQ — an intimidating  circumstance is a deliberate part of learning about capabilities under pressure.

As Seahawks tight end Zach Miller put it, “Sometimes, it is a test to see what people are made of.”

The sage of the locker room, Robinson, was asked if Martin did the right thing.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re two different people. For me, I’m not gonna let that (bullying) happen. But some guys aren’t built like that. You’ve got to respect the guy as a man, as a person. When that doesn’t happen, (hazing) goes too far.”

Robinson also made a pitch for understanding the climate of the locker room, or the firehouse, or wherever people are under intense pressure to perform at a high level, with jobs, maybe lives, at stake. The place where all gather and dish is a kind of private club.

“On all 32 teams, there’s probably a phrase, or a statement, or a gesture, something that can be mistaken, or out of context. Every day. At some point,” he said. “This job is some ways is like any other job, but one way it’s not — we spend a lot of time around each other. Close quarters. We get to know guys on a personal level that isn’t like other jobs. You try to take that away, you take away the essence of football.

“There’s a freedom to say things in the locker room and be someone in here, that stays here. Take that away, it’s not football. I’m sure that firemen and cops talk about things in ways that shouldn’t be talked about in public, things that would be considered negative. You take that away, it would be the same loss for them. Take that away from us, that wouldn’t make it football.”

Robinson wasn’t defending Incognito, but he was searching for room in the discussion of whether the dark parts in everyone can withstand public scrutiny. Anyone who can draw a bright, sharp line, please share the wisdom.


YourThoughts

  • Gerald Turner

    Seahawks had the same thing going on,
    but in reverse. “See that Giacomini?
    He is just to aggressive, can you try and soften him up a bit?”
    “We want you to ride him with loving kindness, if he is going to
    survive the officials he has got to be weakened up.”
    “Why wont he back down?”

  • Long-Time Fan

    Side note to Arthur: It’s “free rein,” not “free reign.”

  • tedsfrozenhead

    America is a society of cultures and many subcultures, it’s a part of what makes us who we are and that is a great thing. But no culture is above the law, be it immigrants, inner city gangs, old maids knitting clubs or in this case, professional athletes. Had Incognitos actions occurred outside the locker room he would likely be facing serious legal jeopardy. Extortion, harassment, coercion, menacing, threats to an individual and his family to force compliance to another individuals will, these are all illegal in our society. Factor in the use of the n word and an eager prosecutor might apply hate crime status to this. The question is, should the NFL get a pass (pun intended) on adhering to societies established standards? Incognitos enablers have made their opinions quite clear and this is perhaps the most troubling aspect to come from this situation, they simply seem to view this as not an issue and an everyday occurrence in the league. Worse yet, some of them tend to place the blame of this upon the person who was receiving this malicious treatment.

    I will be interested to see how Tom Garfinkel, former Padres exec and new Dolphins CEO and President will deal with this. As a Padre season ticket holder I have met Mr. Garfinkel on a few occasions and am impressed by his character. My feeling is the coaching staff is finished there.He has no ties with them and although his forte is more on the marketing side, his character lends itself towards building a new culture at any cost. Philbin has accepted the final responsibility for the culture of the locker room, it’s his mess and he should pay the price for it.

    Just my 2 cents. Your comments, intellectual and respectful dialogue is welcomed….

  • jafabian

    I remember when the Sonics were doing their amazing turnaround in ’78 and they were playing the Sixers, Marvin Webster accidentally knocked down George McGinnis to the floor while going for a rebound. He extended out his hand to help him up and Paul Silas slapped his hand away, saying to “let the (expletive) get up on his own.” I understand where Paul was coming from then. It was about intimidation and not letting your opponent be comfortable with you. But today, he probably wouldn’t do that because it’s a different era now. That’s what the NFL needs to do. Change with the times.

    I don’t like the suggestion that Martin needs to “be a man and stand up for himself.” Isn’t that what he’s doing? In a large group setting everyone is a different personality. You can’t expect everyone to be the same. Martin most likely tried to tolerate the jokes and it went to far for him. This is a result of young men who’ve never nad a full time job, worked in large group settings beyond football and take their million dollar salaries for granted. If any of them is a parent of a teen they’d know that schools eliminated the old school frosh day a long time ago. Schools want students to have a positive experience coming to school. What are the positives in insulting and belittling a teammate? To make him tougher? So if Martin goes to see Dr. Phil about this does Dr. Phil cuss him out and tell him to be a man?

    I work for a large company in a large office. Even more people than on a football team. For our team to work the way it should we have to understand how one another works. You can’t make a square peg fit in a round hole. I don’t blame Martin at all on this. The culture with the Dolphins sounds very old school football and they need to join the 21st century. Chuck Knox elimimated a lot of the rookie hazing when he came to the Seahawks so there are coaches out there who understand that it isn’t for everyone. Isn’t it better to be a team than to establish a pecking order? Would you see lead employees for an office at, say, Boeing, Nordstrom or Microsoft doing what Incognito did to Martin to a new employee? It shouldn’t matter “well, this is a football team.” It’s about being a team. Better to support one another than to cut one another down.

    • tedsfrozenhead

      Jafa ~ I remember that as well. Silas was a warrior and he instilled that attitude upon the Sonics. But I remember when asked about it he talked about the fraternity of NBA players and how that combative attitude was limited, for the most part, to the court. He also added, with a wink in his eye, that he didn’t like everybody in the league.
      Great recollection on your part.

      • jafabian

        Thanks. I recall both the champion Sonics and the Payton-Kemp finals team got along famously. When the Sonics were snowed in while in NYC in 1995 the team got a whole bunch of garbage bags from the kitchen of their hotel to use as makeshift sleds and went sledding in Central Park. Isn’t it better to get along with each other instead of belittling each other? This is why the Dolphins, IMO, have problems winning over the years. Look at the Legion of Boom. They do things together and support one another. They’re the best secondary in the league and are part of the best defense. Not a coincidence.

    • 1coolguy

      I don’t agree that walking out on your team mates and coaches is the right thing to do. He should have met with them and gotten to some sort of resolution. If not, then leave, but he has effectively, IMO, blown the season for the rest of the team.
      I find it interesting the Dolphins that I have heard about all back up Incognito, so there has to be more to the story.

      • jafabian

        Martin didn’t see himself walking out on his team, he saw it as survival though. And they weren’t supporting him. Again, not everyone will do as you suggest. In customer service it’s said that out of ten people who had a bad experience with a business, only 1 will report it. That’s what’s happening here. Martin is not unique here. I’m certain over the years many, many players have been like him but didn’t say anything. For all we know this is why Aaron Curry recently retired from the NFL, citing a lack of desire to play anymore. Same with John Moffitt.

        • eYeDEF

          Moffitt is a possibility I could see. Aaron Curry absolutely not. He was just a poor pro football player who couldn’t hack it on the field.

      • WestCoastBias79

        Martin didn’t just walk away from the team, he checked himself into a hospital. The man was broken. Pretty sure this decision was better than bringing a gun to work.

      • Hammtime

        That was my first reaction as well when I heard he left the team. But, it wasn’t like he left to go party or take a vacation in Cabo – he checked himself into a hospital. He must have been having very dark thoughts and fighting for survival. I feel for him.

      • tedsfrozenhead

        I don’t agree that threatening to crap in someones mouth is acceptable.
        I don’t agree that threatening to assault someones mother is acceptable
        I don’t agree that threatening to anally rape someones sister is acceptable
        I don’t agree that extortion is acceptable
        I don’t agree that coercion is acceptable
        I don’t agree that harassment is acceptable
        I don’t agree that the advice given to Martin by the G.M. to simply punch Incognito is acceptable
        I don’t agree that the same G.M.s question to Dez Bryant asking if his mother was a prostitute is acceptable
        I don’t agree that breaking multiple laws because it occurs in a locker room is acceptable

        There is much more to the story Coolguy. Every time the Dolphins slam Martin his attorneys let out a little bit more. The mentality of that locker room, and many others in the NFL is stuck in the past.

        Let me ask you Cool…do you think any of these actions are acceptable in todays society? If not, why do you want to give them a free pass on this?

  • 1coolguy

    Seems both Martin and Incognito should get together, resolve things and have a 1 time, brief press conference. Then get on with it.
    Tannehill’s comments are interesting, as he thought the 2 of them were friends and hung out together.
    So it almost seems as though something in martin snapped.
    I’m not going to get into what was said, texted, etc as the context is very, very important, and until the 2 of them get together and resolve this, it won’t go away.
    It’s really too bad and frankly, odd (I have never heard of an NFL player walking out because if hazing) that Martin simply walked out on the team. It may be he has some other things he’s dealing with and only by going public, especially with his teammates, will there be any resolution.
    In the meantime they formed the left side of the O line and are hurting their team, so a resolution by both of them is owed to the rest of their teammates and coaches.

  • WestCoastBias79

    One of the things that I keep hearing in this discussion nationally, is how us civilians do not understand the dynamics of an NFL locker room. While I completely agree that I don’t know how it feels to drop 30K on a meal for millionaires, I do know how it feels to buy pizza for a bunch of Seniors when I was a Freshman making money by mowing lawns–that 30 bucks hurt. One of the things that always fascinates me about pro sports is that when you hear what’s said in a huddle, or see a play drawn up, they’re using the same nomenclature, and same tactics that you learned in Jr. High. It’s just figuratively (and probably literally) on steroids. Same thing applies to the locker room.

    Freshman year football was not fun, however, you pushed through, were accepted, then did the same thing to the next guys. I do, however, remember one guy where the hazing continued into his Sophomore year, and he cracked, quit the team and changed schools. I’ll admit that I’m talking about a 15 year old kid, not a 24 year old pro, but the idea is the same. The culture Icognito thrived in started when he was probably 12.

    I’m ashamed that my first reaction to hearing this was that Martin must be a wuss like that kid was in high school, then felt sick as I realized I was thinking about this like a 16 year old jock, and then realized that without the ceiling of my athleticism, injuries, and life humbling me, I’d probably still be like that 16 year old jock, just a lot bigger and stronger. I guess this diatribe is to say that this situation is just the ultimate manifestation of a culture that is entrenched long before these guys get to the NFL. I’m happy that there’s a discussion on it. I look back fondly on those times, but honestly don’t think the hazing made me a better football player or man, it was just something you dealt with like you would a blister–fight through it and move on. I don’t think it caused any greater bond with my teammates than having a Senior mentor me, and I got a lot more respect in the locker room after a three sack game as a Freshman than I did by buying them pizza. If I have a son and he wants to play football, I genuinely hope this part of jock culture goes the way of the leather helmet, and hopefully this is the catalyst.

  • Matt712

    My general feeling on hazing, bullying, initiations, etc. can be summed up in the first half hour of the movie Animal House where the pledges were getting initiated into their fraternities. Ask yourself, “Which house would I have rather pledged?”

    If done lightheartedly with common sense and with care (Don’t confuse ‘care’ with ‘gentleness’) for the individual(s), and staying mindful that the ultimate goal is inclusion rather than exclusion, then it can be a great bonding experience.

    But these guys are jocks not psychiatrists. And this tradition and environment does not really allow for expressing one’s feelings. I’m guessing Incognito didn’t realize the harm he was doing. I’m also guessing Martin may not have let on at how badly he was being hurt. Sounds like he simply stopped saying, “Thank you sir. May I have another?” but Incognito kept paddling away.

  • Jake Reeder

    This isn’t about hazing and bullying, this is about a quiet, thoughtful, probably introverted lineman from Stanford suddenly having to deal with a team-mandated “toughening up” from a complete lout in Richie Incognito. I’m am quite certain Martin endured the loudmouth ignorance of Incognito until he simply couldn’t take it any more. In an increasingly bombastically extroverted world, in a sport that thrives on a certain edge of alpha-male hostility, it seems as though Martin simply couldn’t function with a proven jackass such as Incognito as his appointed mentor. I can hardly blame Martin; i can only imagine the intellectual indignity he suffered on a near daily basis.

    • RadioGuy

      You pretty much summed up what I was going to say, although I should add that Incognito (who was probably not the best pick for the job) may have at first been trying to bring a sensitive young player out of his shell and into the fold but took it too far. I think more than any groups of football players, offensive linemen HAVE to think as a unit because of the nature of their positions. You’re in a purely supportive role of your teammates (with zero glory) and if you don’t work together, your quarterback and running backs are in for a long afternoon.

      Jonathan Martin is likely an intelligent person (they don’t let dummies into Stanford) who isn’t consumed by football groupthink nor buys into the rites of passage that comes with playing it. Incognito is an easy villain to blame, but I’m not convinced it’s as simple as that.

      Something I find interesting is that while we’ve heard from Doug Baldwin on this, our usually-loquacious defensive back who also played with Martin at Stanford has uncharacteristically remained silent.

      • jafabian

        Good point. Obviously, he isn’t required to make a statement but curious that he hasn’t. Doug Baldwin has been very vocal about it. What I find interesting is that usually the offensive line is a tight, close-knit group. It’s surprising they took things as far as they did. The final straw for Martin is when he sat down for lunch with them and they all got up and left. (Good Lord, the more I read that the more I think that’s so middle school) It’s really out of character for an O-Line to treat one of it’s own that way, epecially for an extended period of time. That group battles in the trenches together. They go to war together. Doesn’t make sense that they’d do what they did to Martin. Knox used to say football games are won in the trenches. No wonder the Dolphins have been rather pedestrian lately.

  • Hammtime

    Good article Art. I could write a novel on my thoughts about this situation. However, I’ll try to keep it short.

    1) I hope Martin get’s the help and support he needs and that he can return to playing football if he so chooses.

    2) No matter what we believe, we can never know what is going on in someone’s head or what they are thinking. While something to us is no big deal or easily shrugged off, for others it might not be so easy.

    3) I wish the media would let this story play out. Let the investigators and the parties involved do their thing and get the facts together. There’s too much jumping to conclusions on both sides and to many “leaks” from anonymous sources. I feel all this hour by hour coverage is making the situation worse.

    • Bryan

      I could not agree more Hammtime. Everybody is in a rush to get their opinion out, as if there’s some time of opinion quota, and NOBODY WILL BE HAPPY until they know what Jason Whitlock thinks. Even though Whitlock, nor anyone else, knows even a small percentage of what is really going on.

  • Tom Robinson

    Martin wasn’t a rookie. This wasn’t hazing as it relates to incoming rookies. It was assault and intimidation. This isn’t about a right of passage this was about a player with anger management issues.