Locker-room hazing to be top NFL offseason topic

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NEW YORK (AP) - For a chunk of the regular season, from the moment offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the Miami Dolphins in late October, locker-room bullying was a toxic topic that rocked the NFL.

There were unseemly allegations and he-said, he-said accusations about what happened in Miami between Martin and suspended teammate Richie Incognito. There were tales told by other players around the league about being forced to pick up $10,000 dinner tabs.

And now, as the offseason begins when the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks ends Sunday night, hazing - and where the line should be drawn between all-in-good-fun hijinks and inappropriate harassment - will once again be part of the conversation about professional football.

“That’s just kind of the culture of football: You have rites of passage. That’s kind of how the veterans see it. If you have veterans that want to take advantage of it, there might be a bad situation. But if you have good veterans, nothing crazy will happen,” said Broncos defensive tackle Sione Fua, who played college football at Stanford with Martin.

“I’m sure after everything that happened with Jonathan, the NFL will probably come out and maybe be more strict about it or make coaches be more, I guess, accountable, to really make sure their team isn’t doing anything serious,” Fua said. “We’ll see what happens.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insists he’ll be out front on the issue.

“Our No. 1 priority has to make sure that we have a workplace environment that’s professional, recognizing that we have some unique circumstances. But we have to make sure that our players, (and) other employees, have that kind of professional workplace environment,” Goodell said Friday, indicating it might be time for the league to issue new guidelines.

As things stand, the topic of workplace behavior is discussed with players at the league’s annual rookie symposium, and all 32 teams are supposed to cover it in training camp each year.

The NFL’s player policy manual distributed during training camp outlines the league’s personal conduct policy, which includes language about violent or threatening behavior between employees in or outside of the workplace.

“I’ve already begun discussions with outside parties. I’ve discussed it with the union. I’ve also met with several groups of players, individually and collectively, to talk about the circumstances. What needs to be done? What do we all want? And the No. 1 thing I hear, and the No. 1 (thing) that I believe is: We all have to get back to respect,” Goodell said.

“It’s respect for each other, respect for the game, respect for your organizations, respect for your opponents, the game officials,” he continued.

Goodell noted that education and “possibly” policy change will be priorities.

“I am certainly supportive” of considering fresh guidelines for locker-room behavior,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said, calling it “a positive for the NFL and for the Kansas City Chiefs to really study that.”

In a TV interview this week with former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, who’s now an analyst for NBC, Martin said he was not the only Dolphins player who dealt with hazing. He also said racial, aggressive and sexually charged comments all played a role in his departure from the team.

“I have no problem with the normal hazing that you see in the NFL, get a haircut, stuff like that, little pranks,” Martin said. “But of a personal, attacking nature, I don’t think there’s any place for that.”

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