That does not make it right.
Slavery was once an American tradition and so was child labor, racism, homophobia, sexism, child marriage, indentured servitude and share cropping.
That does not make them right.
The case of Miami Dolphins teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito is a blessing in disguise because it has surfaced an ugly cancer in the NFL. Incognito’s flurry of racial slurs and threats against Martin were grotesque and unacceptable in 2013. Incognito was used like a rabid dog by his coaches on the young and struggling Martin in a twisted attempt to “toughen him up” like the Marine Corps’ now illegal “Code Red.”
As expected, Incognito has received support from some of his peers deeming the suspended player a worthy teammate, but those in the front office aren’t as forgiving. The “Boys will be boys” defense is past its expiration date.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told ESPN that he was appalled by the incident, describing it as his “worst nightmare.”
Already under fire for its cover-up of head injuries data and swarms of players with violent criminal convictions, the NFL is not in position to be soft on bullying and racism. Professional basketball has done a much better job so far. The Minnesota Timberwolves have banned hazing in the locker room and the rest of the sporting world should follow suit. Rookie guard Shabazz Mohammed was told he no longer had to wear a Jonas Brothers backpack issued to Timberwolves rookies.
“They actually said they don’t want us carrying them, but I understand with the stuff going on with the football thing,” said Mohammed to the Los Angeles Times. “They want us to be separate from that. Now I think rookie hazing won’t exist anymore.”
We live in a time where society has stood up against bullying, thus locker rooms around the world should follow the natural cadence of a progressive society.
Jonas Brother backpacks (or the San Diego Padre pink Barbie backpacks) pale in comparison to Incognito’s sadistic treatment of Martin. Stanford educated and brighter than most dozen NFL players combined, Martin decided enough was enough. In many sports newcomers are hazed with harmless antics such as carrying gear or singing a funny song, but Inocencio was not harmless or funny. His vicious abuse, racism and ridicule crossed every line, including legal ones. His racism and bullying created a hostile work environment and exposed the Dolphins to an enormous lawsuit. Ross apparently gets that.
Racism, homophobia, hazing and machismo have always been a part of the culture predominately in some sports for generations. That is not an excuse. Allowing hazing to continue is as ignorant as continuing Jim Crow, gay bashing, repression of women and child sweatshops. Sports– especially the NFL– needs to do better. Its players are role models and need to act the part.
The League needs to imbue a new culture demanding a higher standard of character, progressiveness and leadership. “Old school” is dead when it comes to abuse. It is time for a new lesson.