WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – While the Redskins’ 34-27 loss to the Vikings Thursday may have been deflating, it did free up London Fletcher’s Sunday to join The NFL Today on CBS, and polish off his media skills for a potential post-NFL career in broadcasting.
Fletch took part in a round table discussion – joining host James Brown, Bart Scott, and former Redskin Jon Jansen – to talk about the locker room culture in the NFL, and the role it played in the ongoing Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal in Miami.
[via CBS Sports]
“Richie Incognito starts off saying that a lot of what happens that we’re seeing now in the public light, is because of the culture of the locker room, even the use of racial epithets,” JB said. “My question to you guys: the culture of the locker room, is that what’s going on in the locker room today?”
“JB, I played sixteen years in the National Football League,” Fletcher said. “Three teams. This is not the culture of the National Football League. There’s not some type of barbaric community where you have a bunch of guys running around making rookies do whatever they want to do, using racial slurs whenever, however, wherever they want to. This is a weak justification by Richie Incognito to justify what he did to Jonathan Martin. To use the ‘I’m a product of my environment’ defense, that’s offensive to me as an African-American player, that’s offensive to me as a person in the National Football League as well.”
“No tighter group than O-linemen, so is that the culture of the locker room, Jon?” JB directed to Jansen.
“No, it’s not,” Jansen said. “But the line may be a little bit different than it is in culture, and I’m not saying we’re going to go out and use racial epithets or try and get even close to that line, but what happens in an offensive line meeting room, there are things that are said in there, there are relationships that are developed that would no go in corporate America. And there are things that are said in there that I would not even talk to my wife about, but that is the family unit that you have in the offensive line, but it’s not to go as far as to say ‘we’re going to go ahead and use some of these racial slurs.’ That is, there’s a line, but that’s way too far.”
Scott made the observation that if Incognito really believed the type of behavior he’s alleged to have committed was acceptable, then maybe he’s the problem, and that type of culture merely follows him around.
Jansen, who spent nine seasons with the Redskins, before playing his final season with the Lions, then specified the only discrimination that existed in NFL locker rooms he’s been a part of, was between guys who could win football games and guys who could not.
“I agree with Jon, and on the teams he’s been on, the offensive line unit is the tightest-knit,” Fletcher said. “They work together. They have to work in unison more so than any other position on the football team. What’s normal in an NFL locker room, when you bring a rookie in, you break him down to build him back up.”
“Break him down, meaning what,” JB sought clarification.
“You’re gonna bring me some breakfast sandwiches,” Fletcher said unabashed. “You’re gonna carry my pads. You’re gonna go get me coffee.”
“And why is that important,” JB asked.
“Because I think that’s a part of bringing a little bit of humility to the guys,” Fletcher said. “Then you build ’em back up. You bring ’em in. You teach ’em the ropes of the National Football League. It’s kind of sort of a rite of passage. I had to do it when I was a rookie. I had to get the breakfast sandwiches. But there’s a line that was crossed.
“When I was a rookie, a guy came to me, a veteran guy came to me talking about some sandwiches, some breakfast sandwiches that I didn’t bring, I wasn’t supposed to bring this particular day. He started talking to me in a manner that was disrespectful. I said ‘Listen, where I come from we don’t argue. So this is no longer about breakfast sandwiches. Something has to happen.’ And that was the end of that. It went beyond your normal hazing to ‘You’re disrespecting me now, as a man.'”
Fletcher’s anecdote about hazing going too far during his rookie year, and how he chose to handle the situation with the unnamed player, is particularly intriguing, because is speaks to the self-governing system typically believed to be in place in NFL locker rooms; a system Miami’s was clearly devoid of having.
And yet, when the situation within the Dolphins locker room was first reported, defenders of Incognito were quick to point out that same self-governing system being used to ‘weed out the wink links’ so to speak, which in this case, would be Martin.
That in mind, had Martin stood up for himself the way Fletcher had, maybe we wouldn’t be talking about this, or maybe he did and it wasn’t enough, and the situation still spiraled out of control and the result is playing out before our eyes.
But if the testimony Fletcher, Scott and Jansen provided is to be taken at face value – three guys who collectively spent time in seven separate locker rooms during their respective careers (Fletcher’s and Jansen’s careers overlapped for two seasons in Washington) – then what happened in Miami seems more likely to be an isolated incident, in which too much power was entrusted to the Dolphins’ self-governing body, fostering an environment for bullying, and a warped one, in which racial slurs could have been thrown around as badges of honor, without regard for the actual color of one’s skin or the negative undertones those words carry.
But that’s all mindless speculation brought on by a thoughtful and compelling television segment. Kudos to you, Fletch.