The Incognito Effect
When NFL officials learned that veteran Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito had been systematically harassing teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin fled the team, they went into full outrage mode. They held meetings. They repeated buzzwords. "We're having some very candid and very straightforward conversations," says Robert Gulliver, the league's chief human resources officer. In a 10-minute conversation, Gulliver repeated respect 16 times. His office even dispatched 12 ambassadors (retired players) to each team to discuss Incognito, hazing, and other issues such as the first openly gay player, Michael Sam, and how to reduce use of the N-word in locker rooms.
Like most mandatory front-office meetings, it was largely unnecessary – players say rookie abuse diminished long ago. "Everything's died down," laments Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan about traditions such as tying young players to goalposts. "In the 1980s and '90s, nobody cared about your feelings. Everything is under such scrutiny these days." Yet despite the NFL's sensitivity training, players say light hazing persists. "You're going to have to carry some helmets," says the Ravens' Terrell Suggs, "and maybe have a weird-looking hairstyle." Last season, Suggs addressed teammate John Simon by every name but his own – but it was all meant to help the rookie step up his game. "When you make a play," Suggs told him, "you can get your name back."