Executive Director’s blog: Tough times in the danger-prone workplace — and then there is the National Football League

By WARREN WATSON, SABEW Executive Director

Today’s workplace can be a tough place to survive.

There are on-the-job injuries, sometimes debilitating.    There is profanity and racism.  There is drug abuse.  There is occasional law-breaking, even charges of murder.

And that all happens in the rah-rah, All-American atmosphere of the nation’s most popular sport, the National Football League, not in a coal mine nor a textile mill in the Deep South.

Reports this week of racially tinged bullying and hazing at the NFL’s Miami Dolphins have turned the NFL world upside down again, much like earlier big stories about the dangerous nature of play, concussions and career-ending injuries.

The latest blemish involved second-year Dolphin Jonathan Martin, who left the team because he was being hazed and harassed by Richie Incognito, a veteran player who was also a member of the team’s informal leadership council.  The harassment allegedly involved profanity and racial epithets.

Dolphin coach Joe Philbin said the team is asking the NFL to do a thorough study of the Dolphin workplace environment, which could be construed as hostile.

The reaction to the incidents are making the issue even more troubling.  Commentators called Incognito’s alleged actions “disgraceful and despicable.”  But he is clearly being singled out as a renegade – which he may indeed be.   Commentators, many ex-NFL players, are now conceding that hazing is commonplace – but just how much so. This all surprised me, an ardent fan.

Ron Wolfley, an ex-Arizona Cardinal and now broadcaster, said it is common for rookies and others to be forced to pay the bill for elaborate dinners for older teammates that run into the thousands of dollars.   He said that hazing is normal, even leading to team-building.

This all makes me feel uncomfortable about my love of the sport, much like I was turned off earlier this year by murder charges against New England’s Aaron Hernandez, racial slurs by Philadelphia’s Riley Cooper and the league’s laissez-faire attitude about career-ending concussions.

So, all is not well in the NFL. A lot of eyes will focus on what the league does next in the Incognito affair..

(Warren Watson is a 40-year journalist who has worked for media organizations who has worked as a reporter, editor and executive in seven states.  He has been SABEW’s executive since 2009.)


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