Miami Dolphins bullying allegation puts spotlight on NFL culture

November 5, 2013, 5:35 pm
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(NECN: Ally Donnelly) - Sitting in his Boston office, Former New England Patriot Tim Fox said, "Normally, what happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room."

Fox acknowledged that you have to have thick skin to play in the NFL, but says there's a line between initiation and bullying.

"There is a constant level of pranking," he said. "I remember coming in and having my shoestrings cut every day for an entire year."

Snipped shoe strings are a far cry from what sources tell the Associated Press has gone on between Miami Dolphins offensive linemen  Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.

Twenty-four-year-old Martin left the team last week citing emotional issues, and 30-year-old Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for allegedly harassing Martin with racist and threatening text messages. According to reports, Incognito also allegedly convinced Martin to shell out $15,000 for a group trip to Las Vegas and then didn't invite him along. Fox says that type of behavior is nothing new as NFL revenues escalate and the salary cap continues to rise.

Fox explained, "There's a certain level of bitterness from the older players looking down at younger players because they're making the money that the older players didn't have the opportunity to make and so they're literally extorting these younger players to come up with money to pay for dinners, trips, things like that so you can be part of the group."

As the NFL has launched an investigation, it's unclear what, if anything, Dolphins coaches or management knew.

"The coaches don't like to come in and intrude on the players in the locker room," he said, "so whether it's intentionally or unintentionally they turn a blind eye or deaf ear to what goes on in there."

Boston University professor and sports psychologist Adam Naylor said, "It's easier to see when you place your hands on someone. It's tougher to see when someone fears going to work, so we have a lot tougher time drawing that line."

Naylor says society has become far too accepting of divisive behavior on the field and off and the teams need to mentor players better while society takes responsibility for our young people as well.

"Real toughness is supporting your teammate and building a team that can work and thrive together," he said. "When we think of old time sports initiations, they were about building team, not breaking team."

Experts say the culture of football and athletics in general is incredibly difficult to change, but take this scandal, coupled with a concussion controversy, and they say it leaves the NFL with little choice. 

Fox said, "The silver lining might be that it's no longer behind the curtain and inside the locker room and so, for young rookies coming up and young players coming up, it will be understood that this is not to be tolerated. I'm certain that there will be some retribution here."

And, hopefully, Fox says, education and change.

Tags: nfl, Miami Dolphins, Ally Donnelly, bullying, Richie Incognito, sports psychology, jonathan martin, nfl bullying, tim fox, boston university professor adam naylor
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