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Pluto: The NFL has long had a hazing problem

Terry Pluto says hazing, especially in the NFL, has long been a rite of passage. But in many instances, like one in Miami, rookies are used as ATMs to pay for players' lavish lifestyles.

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Amanda Rabinowitz
Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin (L) left the team after he allegedly was harassed and threatened by a fellow teammate.
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A bullying scandal has surfaced in the NFL that many say goes beyond harmless rookie hazing. Miami Dolphins veteran lineman Richie Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for allegedly sending threatening messages that included racial slurs to fellow rookie lineman Jonathan Martin. Martin left the team this week. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says this case is could shed light on a broader issue of hazing in pro sports.
LISTEN: Terry Pluto on NFL hazing

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Rookie hazing all too common...and extreme
The Incognito-Martin case is giving a louder voice to whispers Terry Pluto has heard for years, “how veteran players expect rookies to take care of them.”

“Now there’s kind of nice hazing,” he says, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ tradition that rookies bring donuts, coffee and juice to practice.

“But in this case, the rookie Jonathan Martin paid $15,000 for some of his teammates to go on a trip to Vegas, where he didn’t even go. And what I’ve heard over the years is that sometimes rookies -- in wanting to fit in -- are kind of coerced … to pay for things for veterans.”

Remembering Rodney Craig
Some, he says, can’t afford it – financially, or in cases like baseball player Rodney Craig, emotionally.

“Craig played briefly with Indians in early 80's. He was known as The Fish because they would get him in a card game and take his meal money.  … He was a horrible card player.

“Rodney Craig died on the streets of LA and it turned out his had mental problems and other issues. … You’ve got to think Rodney so desperately wanted to fit in.”

Leaving it on the field
Pluto says what drives athletes on the field may also be driving the cruelest of the hazing. Both Martin and Incognito are linemen. In the NFL, that means 280- to 350-pound guys taking a stance “about six inches away from each other, almost helmet-to-helmet.

“Your job, if you’re an offensive lineman, is to flatten that defensive lineman so he doesn’t get to the quarterback. It’s called pancaking him. And if you’re a defensive guy, sometimes you take your forearm and you just shove it right under this guy’s chin and you snap his head back … so you can slip past him… and hammer the quarterback.

“This takes a certain mentality … so that kind of aggressiveness pays off on the field. But it sometimes carries over into wanting to dominate people around you on the team, (to) be the big dog.”

In Incognito’s case, Pluto says, the aggressiveness is well-documented. “He’s a nut case, but he’s our nutcase -- that’s what the coaches would say.”

NFL to investigate
Pluto says the racial element in this case makes for even bigger problems. But overall, “I think the league should come out with some guidelines. We don’t want rookies spending $20,000 for trips to Vegas.”

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