Marshall men share NFL hazing stories
HUNTINGTON — Jamie Wilson endured hazing in the NFL, but no way was he walking away from his team because of it.
Tackle Jonathan Martin left the Miami Dolphins last week after being hazed by teammates, particularly guard Richie Incognito. The NFL is investigating the situation, which has sparked a national debate as to whether hazing is a harmless tradition or callous bullying. Much of the discussion centers on whether Martin was correct to leave the team or was he too “soft” for the NFL.
Wilson, a former Marshall University tackle who played for the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts in the late 1990s, said the Martin-Incognito story brought back memories of his rookie season of 1997.
“I can tell you no rookie is exempt from the hazing, whether a league minimum guy, which is where I fit in, or a first-round draft pick,” Wilson said. “I remember having to carry the veterans’ shoulder pads stacked seven high on top of my shoulders and trips back for the helmets after every practice daily.”
Carrying equipment hurt physically. Wilson also endured the rookie initiation ritual of being a fast food delivery guy, which hurt his bank account.
“It was frustrating having to run to get the whole offensive line and tight ends fast food before we got on the plane for all away games,” Wilson said. “They would order so much more than they would eat and my bill would come to like $200 to $400 every time.”
Former Thundering Herd linebacker Andre O’Neal, who played with the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings in the early 2000s, was also the rookie victim of meal hazing. O’Neal was made to bring food to linebacker meetings, but one particular meal set him back more than the cost of a few cheeseburgers.
“The worst one was when I was with the Chiefs and we all went to dinner and they left me with the bill,” O’Neal said. “It was a pretty hefty bill, like $1,000, I had to call my wife and tell her. She wasn’t happy.”
Most of the hazing O’Neal endured was harmless. He and other rookies were forced to stand on a table and sing their school fight songs. O’Neal, though, couldn’t remember all the words to “Sons of Marshall.”
“I sang Amazing Grace,” O’Neal said. “They liked it. It went over really well.”
Grace isn’t something veterans generally dish out to rookies. Nobody escapes at least a bit of hazing, ranging from silly to serious. Sometimes it’s physical, such as being bound in plastic wrap and tossed into an icy tub of water. Sometimes it’s being forced to wear women’s clothing.
More often it’s verbal, something Martin experienced with the Dolphins.
Wilson said he faced verbal taunts from Carolina veterans.
“The verbal abuse comes with the territory,” Wilson said. “I was so frustrated but I knew everyone had to go through it. Being hazed is truly a rite of passage for rookies in the NFL. I’m not sure if we know the whole story between Martin and Incognito, but on the surface I think Martin probably should have kept quiet and pushed through like every other rookie before him.”
O’Neal said he has a difficult time with the Dolphins’ hazing situation because so many details remain unknown.
“It sounds, though, as if this went to a much further extreme,” O’Neal said. “There are traditions, but at some point when it goes too far you have to put your foot down.”
Former Marshall running back Doug Chapman, who played from 2000 through 2003 with the Minnesota Vikings and 2004 with the San Diego Chargers, said more details about the Dolphins situation must emerge before judgments can be made.
“There’s so much more to this story,” said Chapman, a college football analyst with ESPN. “If it’s not from (Incognito or Martin) or the Dolphins then it’s all just speculation. I want to hear more on this situation. Not just what media/outsiders think, but from actual players.”
Chapman said he has looked into the situation, talking to current and former teammates of Incognito, and for now sees nothing that deeply concerns him.
“I would definitely welcome Richie Incognito as a teammate,” Chapman said. “Without hesitation.”
Former Marshall tight end Eric Ihnat, who played for the Chicago Bears in the early 1990s, said a fine line exists between hazing and bullying and that the line appears to have been crossed in the Dolphins case.
“Hazing happens everywhere,” Ihnat said. “In the workplace, the gym, at home with siblings. The only reason this particular incident is a story is because we are all shocked that a big, tough football player can’t stick up for himself or is so sensitive that he can’t cope.”
Former Herd standout wide receiver Josh Davis played for the Dolphins, Vikings, Panthers and New Orleans Saints in the mid-2000s. Davis agreed with Ihnat that the storyline of a NFL player not sticking up for himself is fascinating to the public.
“What happened in Miami was just one guy being a bully,” Davis said. “The other guy never stood up for himself. I was raised to always stand up for myself.”
Davis said hazing goes on from high school to pro ball. Still, he doesn’t like it.
“People who have played ball from high school on up understand it’s all about respect,” Davis said. “I feel like hazing is unacceptable. It’s just wrong.”
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