We don’t know the news yet out of Green Bay, though Aaron Rodgers appeared to suffer a serious left shoulder injury early in the Green Bay Packers’ loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. “He has a shoulder injury,’’ said coach Mike McCarthy after the game. “They want to run more tests.’’
If Rodgers has to miss time, the division and conference races will be hugely affected. Backup Seneca Wallace looked tentative and uncomfortable against the Bears. The Packers, Bears and Lions are tied atop the NFC North at 5-3. Jay Cutler is due back to the Bears this week from a groin injury. Matthew Stafford is healthy in Detroit. So the Packers could go from a prohibitive division favorite one day to playoff long-shots the next. One thing’s for sure: Green Bay needs to put a claim in for quarterback Matt Flynn, who was waived by the Bills on Monday.
But my column today, instead of focusing on the uncertainty of the Rodgers diagnosis, will turn south, to Florida, to the story of the moment—the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin saga.
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Richie Incognito, the starting left guard of the Miami Dolphins, played alongside Jonathan Martin, the starting left tackle, for a year and a half, before Martin left the team eight days ago. Understand the importance of the relationship between a guard and tackle who play alongside each other: They must understand each other’s movements, each other’s strengths, each other’s weaknesses. I remember covering the New York Giants for four years in the eighties, and Billy Ard, a guard for the team, once told me: “The guys alongside you, the tackle and the center, they’re your brothers. In the game, they’re more important than your brothers. For you to survive, it’s up to them.”
A band of brothers. We hear that a lot. In the military, in football, in many walks of life. What I don’t understand, in this Incognito-Martin dispute, is how one brother can pick up the phone and call another brother and say what Incognito said to Martin, in what was reported Monday by ESPN. Please, if you can’t stand rough language, skip over the next paragraph. I am only using it, censored as much as I can, to show you how brother Incognito talked to brother Martin after knowing him for a year.
The only way to make this real is to show you the reality. If you don’t want to read what Incognito said to Martin, please skip the next paragraph:
“Hey, what’s up, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter. You been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—— mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—— mouth … You’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
I have been around players, and the hazing rituals for rookies. I have not known it to stretch into second seasons, which apparently it did with Martin, at least by Incognito. And this one seems particularly harsh. My question is: Why should hazing of any kind exist in the NFL?
Hazing in the NFL reminds me a bit of fighting in the NHL. Some fans of hockey, and NHL insiders, want fighting banned. I’ve wondered: Other than satisfying base interests of some fans, what good does fighting serve? Why is it in the game? I’d ask the same thing here. No one minds the first-round pick being on donut duty all season—bringing four dozen donuts to practice one or two days a week is not hazing; that’s being a high-priced delivery boy. Fine. Dressing funny? Fine too. But I start getting creeped out when rookies get tied to the goal post and get their heads shaved, or get stripped naked. How, exactly, does that build camaraderie? No one’s ever been able to give me an answer on that one.
I think the NFL—in the same way it banned all bounties after the New Orleans Saints’ scandal—must think about banning anything that reeks of hazing. Just because this tradition has been handed down doesn’t make it smart, or right. You can’t convince me the league would be worse off without even mild hazing. I need a player to stand up and shout me down on this, and tell me why it’s necessary, why it’s good for chemistry. I don’t see it.
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I wanted to give the scores of you who wrote me on this topic the chance to be heard in my regular mailbag, so let’s head over to Page 2 and dive in.