The Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation has yielded plenty of opinions as more facts become exposed over the course of the investigation.
As the South Florida Sun Sentinel points out, even current Dolphins players fall on different sides of the debate with respect to their thoughts on Martin and Incognito. Questions have started to spread from the Dolphins organization, through the NFL and, as expected, trickle down to the collegiate ranks.
Regardless of the landscape, be it NFL or collegiate, hazing and bullying have no place in the game. The practice is not beneficial and can foster as much resentment as the sense of camaraderie it is meant to build.
Hazing and bullying are not to be confused with the lighthearted initiation tactics practiced by teams to bring freshmen into the fold. Carrying pads, putting away equipment are things that foster a sense of responsibility and accountability, critical elements to the team. The rookie show and fight song ordeals are intra-squad affairs where everyone laughs at everyone, including newcomers laughing at each other.
What comes with hazing and bullying—two acts that go hand in hand—is the push from bringing everyone into the fold to ostracizing individuals in the name of improving teamwork. There are physical and mental elements to each and ultimately, both run a very serious risk of breaking individuals that would have otherwise been beneficial, contributing members of the team.
It can come from coaches and it can come from players, and neither source changes the fact that it is wrong and, more importantly, damaging. Simply put, at the collegiate level, football is hard enough without the added weight of feeling isolated, feeling different as if one does not belong with, or to, the group.
At the collegiate level, transitioning from high school, being independent from parents and making new friends all while trying to digest massive amounts of football-related information is a monumental mountain to scale.
Adding negativity into the mix only serves to make that climb more difficult.
Louis Riddick, current ESPN NFL Insider and six-year NFL veteran who started his career with the San Francisco 49ers, echoed that point, not just in his own words, but from the teachings of coaching great Bill Walsh. The point was also echoed by former 49ers quarterback Steve Young on ESPN's The Michael Kay Show.
In a locker room, teammates are supposed to be united, fighting against everyone else. Sometimes their own fans, but always the opposing teams' fans, and most importantly the rest of the teams in the division, conference and league. Dividing that locker room and pushing players away from the group is detrimental to the goal.
The constant conflation of hazing and bullying as operating in the same space as spring ball and training camp is a major fallacy. Proving one's worth and mettle on the field, through tough, physical practices is how you grow as teammates. Berating teammates with racial and homophobic slurs in an effort to degrade them is not.
A locker room should be a place where players can retreat from the ills of the outside world. Safe from the media and fan harassment that has become so commonplace in today's sports landscape. Hazing turns that safe place into another battlefield on which ostracized players have to continue to fight.
Being anti-hazing is not about everyone holding hands or singing Kumbaya. Rather, it's about understanding that the best way to maximize a roster and production is through making sure everyone in that space believes they can contribute, fill their role and succeed. It is not about pats on the back, it's about working toward a common goal (winning), and empowered players are far better at that than broken guys.
And trust me—guys can be broken, and as Martin's incident speaks to, that is nothing to celebrate.