NFL culture needs to grow up.
If there was any question of that fact, the New York Giants have silenced the doubters with video footage of Jason Pierre-Paul hazing second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara. The video, posted by punter Steve Weatherford, shows Pierre-Paul carrying Amukamara through the athletic training building at the University of Albany campus and eventually dumping him in a cold tub.
This video sends the crystal-clear message: Sometimes it doesn't "get better"—sometimes people are just jerks.
Football tradition needs to be more than just "how football culture has acted for decades." Penn State Football made that clear. Sometimes the "way things are done" is really stupid. If "tradition" protects idiots and predators, it isn't tradition any more than dogfighting was tradition for Michael Vick and his buddies.
Know what else was football tradition? Players forced to run on hot days without water breaks until they started puking. It wasn't just tradition, it was considered good coaching and a path to championships!
I lived and played football in that culture—right up until football camp my sophomore year. Although I lived in Michigan, the news involving Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer hit home for my football team as well as teams across the nation. Stringer had died in the intense heat of a Vikings training camp practice, and that meant things needed to change in football camps everywhere.
So—somewhat ironically juxtaposed to this current event—NFL culture changed in 2001, adding a bunch of cold tubs (among other hydration/cooling techniques) and forcing coaches like Tom Coughlin to rethink their old-school tendencies.
Eleven years later, it needs to change again and force teams like the Giants and coaches like Coughlin to rethink their practices.
This wasn't horseplay.
One look at Amukamara in the video quells that notion. He wasn't laughing. He wasn't playing along. He wasn't happy or joking around after the fact. Instead, he looked like a young man who knew that he was helpless and in trouble. Afterward, he just wanted to leave after "taking his medicine."
Pierre-Paul, too, mugs for the camera, showing us that this wasn't just goofing around. When someone admonished Amukamara to "stand up for himself," Pierre-Paul laughs if off, stating that Amukamara wouldn't dare.
"He aint gonna do [expletive deleted] to me, [expletive deleted] that [racial slur deleted]!"
What a role model...
So of course Coughlin, the famed authoritarian, would speak out on this and punish someone, right? Well, sort of. Coughlin's response, via Doug Farrar of Yahoo!:
"I'm going to look into it, I'm going to talk to the parties involved," Coughlin said on Monday. "As I'm understanding it, there were some parts of it that were inappropriate. And in no way, anything that occurs within this family or within our group should be a part of social media. I'm going to address that strongly because I spent a little time on that this preseason."
See that? The initial reaction isn't how wrong the incident was, but that it was posted on social media. This is a family, and boys will be boys, right?
Wrong. These are men, and they should act like men.
That is the recurring theme of talks at rookie symposiums and from the NFLPA. This isn't high school football, and these aren't seniors hazing freshman. If it were, they would likely be liable to criminal charges. The days of "paddling youngins" ended decades ago, and Ben Affleck's character from Dazed and Confused is not meant to be a role model.
Apparently, neither is Jason Pierre-Paul.
The subtext here is interesting as well. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk made a noteworthy connection when he pointed out that players have gone out of their way to look gay-friendly to publications like OutSports, but when things like this happen, it sends mixed messages. From Florio:
It’s become fashionable for NFL players to claim that they’d welcome a gay teammate into the locker room. One of the first things that occurred to me after watching the video was that a player deemed to be gay could end up being relentlessly hazed and bullied and harassed — which makes it even more difficult for a player to come out of the closet before his career ends.
Each year, players (like Amukamara) are scouted not only in terms of their talent, but also their character. Don Pompei of the National Football Post wrote that Amukamara fell in the draft not necessarily because he was soft, but because he is of Nigerian descent and NFL personnel men consider Nigerians soft.
Most draft guys know, as well, that "soft" can have a lot of different connotations. Each year, as I speak with scouts, I always get one or two "insider tips" that so-and-so is "soft, if you know what I mean." (*whisper whisper whisper*)
That's right. Florio was onto something connecting these dots how he did.
If football culture thinks a player is soft, that's one step away from being gay. It doesn't matter if the player is married or has a girlfriend, if you're not a manly man (like Pierre-Paul), you're probably not someone the other players would want to shower with.
Now, forget the fact that being gay doesn't, in any way, predict how "manly" a person is, and of course try to forget the fact that having a gay teammate shouldn't matter in the slightest. To NFL culture, it does. Those notions can affect a player's draft status and follow him throughout his entire career.
So, Pierre-Paul (and his Giants cohorts) think Amukamara is soft and that he won't stand up for himself. They either assume that it is then OK to bully him as much as they want, or they assume they can "cure" him of his Nigerian heritage with a few dumps in the cold tub.
What does that say to a gay college football player hoping to make it to the NFL?
More importantly, what does this incident say to young children across America who are bullied every day for being soft, nerdy, quiet, complacent, introverted, smart, stupid or for whatever other reason?
What, too, does it say to those who would pick on the defenseless?
The Giants need to grow up, and it needs to start with Coughlin coming down on his team, not only for posting the video, but for the incident as well and the underlying culture that supports this sort of thing.
We've seen Coughlin tirades in the past, and he needs to make it clear to his team that bullying is a worse offense than punting to DeSean Jackson or being only one minute early to a meeting.
If this is happening on other teams, it needs to stop just as fast. There is no place for this in the game of football, and there certainly isn't any place for this in the business of football. Let's not send the message that bullying is OK as long as no one finds out about it or as long as people tolerate it.
Let's send the message that hazing and bullying are never OK, in any situation.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!