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Does NFL Need Anti-Hazing Policy?

Aired November 11, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE, behaving like football players.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NFL's locker rooms, it is definitely not a place for the PC police.

ANNOUNCER: A scandal in Miami exposes allegations of bullying, hazing and racial slurs. How should parents and fans react?

On the left Van Jones. On the right S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, sports columnist Christine Brennan, who's covering the Miami Dolphins scandal; and former NFL player Jamal Anderson, who knows all about locker rooms. Does the NFL need an anti-hazing policy? What kind of example is it setting for our kids? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a top sports columnist and a former Atlanta Falcons running back.

Miami Dolphins take the field against Tampa Bay in a few hours. Let me state for the record, I'm a football fan. Go, Pack, go! But I'll be the first to tell you, the NFL has plenty of problems. Bullying may be one of them, although the Dolphins' Richie Incognito says he never realized what he did to teammate Jonathan Martin crossed the line. Here's what he told FOX Sports.


RICHIE INCOGNITO, MIAMI DOLPHINS PLAYER: If I would have known that this was hurting Jon, if Jon would -- we've spent plenty of time one-on-one outside of football. If Jon would have came [SIC] to me once or if Jon -- one of our other teammates would have come to me once and said, "Listen, lay off Jon. He's had -- he's had enough of it. It's been too much," I would have been the first person not only to change myself but to change people around me.


CUPP: Now, I wasn't there, but this outrage over allegations of nasty text messages and hazing seems a little feigned and misplaced to me. Concussions, brain damage, suicides, steroid abuse, domestic violence, a seeming tolerance for buggish behavior of all kinds on and off the field, just a few of the cultural problems I think the NFL needs to address first. The NFL problems aren't merely Incognito. They are, in fact, pretty conspicuous.

JONES: Well, look...

CUPP: You're welcome. I wrote that myself.

JONES: She's clever; she's clever.

CUPP: It's good to be back.

JONES: It's good to be back. I'm glad you're back from your honeymoon.

Listen, I know a lot of bad stuff is going on in the NFL. But just because this isn't the worst doesn't mean it's not bad and luckily, we've got some people here who can help us maybe work our way through this thing. I want to start with you.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got a "USA Today" sports columnist, Christine Brennan, and we also have a retired NFL player, Jamal Anderson. Jamal...


JONES: Apparently, they need you to come back.

Maybe I missed the memo on how you build morale with people you're working with. I -- I didn't get the memo that said call them the "N" word and all type of stuff...


JONES: ... as a morale booster. You have actually tried to defend some of this stuff. Can you please explain to ordinary people why this is not completely unacceptable behavior?

ANDERSON: Defend, interesting word. The locker room, it's impossible to explain what the locker room is like for different teams. And each locker room is different. And the relationships with the players in those locker rooms is completely different. The teams who generally win, the play-off teams who have a chance to play for a championship, they generally have outstanding locker rooms, outstanding leadership in the locker rooms. And there are a level of things that can occur in the locker room that you would not understand.

JONES: If you're an ordinary person and you're watching this type of stuff, these are, you know, sports heroes. They are figures that our kids look up to. We put them on a pedestal.


JONES: Are you telling me that behind the scenes, everybody is calling each other the "N" word?

JONES: No, no, no, no. There's no question -- there's no question that is not occurring. And again, it's a personal relationship thing. I can tell you right now, I've been a part of football teams where that has happened from guys who have a different background or who grew up a certain way ande. have a certain rapport or closeness with the guys on those teams.

Now, you know the word is thrown around loosely, among African- Americans, not the "E-R," but the "A" end of it, you know? And it's thrown around loosely as a term of endearment for a lot of young African-Americans who've seen this now.

CUPP: And Christine, before I ask you a question, let me -- let me just set the table for a second. And I'm not going to put words in your mouth, Jamal, but I have heard this defense of locker room culture in regards to this story, in particular. And I think that's a really lazy justification for bad behavior that can trickle down into the schoolyard, and where bullying becomes justified as schoolyard behavior.

Plenty of bad behaviors -- steroids, misogyny, homophobia -- could be claimed a locker-room culture. And I don't think that's right.

I remember years ago hearing from some that Michael Vick in dogfighting, that was part of black southern culture. I'm sure at Penn State, apparently there was a culture that required you defend and protect Joe Paterno at all costs. So culture isn't outside of us; it's part of us. It's what we make it. So I just want to sort of get that out there and say that blaming the locker room is not appropriate.

But Christine, are you really surprised to hear that trash talk like this, and maybe even some bullying and hazing, goes on in these locker rooms? You've been around; you've seen it.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Absolutely. I've been in locker rooms where it's happened to me, covering Washington's NFL team in the '80s. And being in that locker room for three years, you know exactly what we're talking about. I think journalists get teased and harassed and yelled at as much as -- not -- it's not the same thing, because you're in there for about an hour.

I think one of the things we're finding out from this story -- and I think we probably all can agree on this -- is there's so much we don't know about this story. And it will come out. The NFL is investigating. That is a good thing. I absolutely agree that the locker room is very different from the street corner or the school yard, but you made a good point, the notion that it's setting the tone for kids, the children. The NFL's the most popular league in the country, one of the most popular leagues in the world. It's certainly our national pastime. It has passed baseball in that. Forty percent of the fans of the NFL are women. And it is very important that the NFL come into the 21st century. And even if there's a lot to go back and forth on this story, I do believe it's something that could be a watershed moment, that could turn out to be a good thing for the NFL.

JONES: Let me ask you about that, though, because you've been saying that you want to see an anti-hazing policy. We're actually trying to get -- let me try to get your sense of what is hazing, because some people are afraid that if you go too far the other direction, then you're going to have this sort of PC stuff, and you will have teams that can't win.

So let me ask you a couple questions.


JONES: Do you think that players making the junior players carry their shoulder pads, is that hazing from your point of view?

BRENNAN: No, it is not.

JONES: OK. What about extra practices for the rookies? Is that hazing?


JONES: OK. What about threatening someone's life with the "N" word?

BRENNAN: I would say that that is unacceptable, and that is a loaded question.

CUPP: Gotcha.

ANDERSON: Let me say one thing. Let me say one thing, though, S.E.

CUPP: Sure.

ANDERSON: Let me just tell you that. There are a tremendous amount of positive things that occur in the very same locker rooms.

CUPP: Sure.

ANDERSON: There are leaders like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers. There are outstanding football players who do outstanding work off the football field, who are outstanding leaders in the locker room. So this is not this completely negative culture. This is one issue that we're talking about.

Clearly, with one team, let's be realistic now. The Miami Dolphins haven't been in contention for a championship for a couple of years. We're talking about a team who's got to figure some things out with respect to their leadership, the type of guys that they bring into their locker room.

And again, I'm a running back. I want a lineman who's very, very physical. I'm not here to destroy Richie Incognito, because I don't know what happened.

But I'll tell you now, as a guy who played that position, I want a lineman who's going to give me a little bit extra. And I want -- and tough guys -- because to play this sport you have to be physically and mentally tough, but these tough guys don't have to be bad guys, and so we need to really figure out what happened.

JONES: But where do you draw the line, though? I think that's good. Everyone at home probably agrees with you about that. But where do you draw the line? How do you enforce some of this stuff? Some stuff is obvious, but you're the big person that's a champion now for anti-hazing. What are you talking about?

BRENNAN: Right. Well, certainly the use of the "N" word is unacceptable. I think we can all agree on that. And especially when you put it on a voicemail and the voicemail gets into the public. Whether that was intended or not, that was unacceptable. The NFL, Riley Cooper from the Philadelphia Eagles, he was fined by his team for using that same term. So there's got to be punishment for that.

ANDERSON: Really quick about that Christine. You know what was interesting for me when we were talking about that, what happened this summer? I wanted to wait to see what the reaction was from the Philadelphia Eagles. The guys who know him, was this an isolated incident or was this something that represents who this person truly is?

JONES: Well, hold on a second. I want to just actually read some of this stuff, just to catch some people up at home. They may not know exactly why people are so upset. I want -- I want to be sure everyone understands.

This is the kind of stuff that Richie Incognito was leaving on voicemail. He says, "Hey, what's up, you half 'N' word piece of bleep. I saw you on Twitter. You've been training ten weeks. I want to bleep in your bleeping mouth. I'm going to slap your bleeping mouth. I'm going to slap your real mother across the face. Bleep you. You're still a rookie. I'll tell kill you."

Now, this does not strike me as morale boosting.

CUPP: Is that -- is that representative? That kind of talk?

ANDERSON: No. No. The thing about this whole entire conversation that we're having on a national level, and I've represented for many, many days now, the bottom is there's a certain amount of rituals that young players go through. Things that we have all had to go through, whether you're a seventh-round pick like me, whether you're a first-round pick like Michael Vick, when he came to the Falcons.

The reality is you're going through things so you can be on the same page as everybody else, so you've had to endure and sacrifice what we have in order to win. But you need -- if I had a second-round pick that came out of the Stanford who was going to be an offensive lineman, I need to build him up. JONES: I want to talk to you when we get back about how you do go about building folks up. But first we're going to take a break.

You know, the Miami Dolphins just finished up a news conference. We've got some new information we're going to bring to you next. You know, everybody wants their kids to grow up to be successful. I've got two boys. They are great athletes, but I do not want them playing in the NFL. And I'll tell you why, when we get back.


JONES: Welcome back. This just in: Dolphins owner Steven Ross just finished up a press conference. He says he's deeply concerned about the situation, and he's got plans to have a face-to-face meeting with Martin on Wednesday.

So look, we've got the perfect timing here. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Christine Brennan, and we've got Jamal Anderson. These guys know a lot about this.

But first I want to talk about myself. I have two boys. They are Cabral and Matai. And I would not want them to play in the NFL right now. And here's why.

Being strong does not mean bullying people. And right now, both of my boys know that. They are great athletes. They know how to win, but they treat their teammates and even the opposing players with decency and respect.

On the other hand, there is Richie Incognito. He is the guy at the center of the Miami Dolphins scandal. Check out this TMZ clip. We have to bleep it.





JONES: Now, honestly, would you want your kids to grow up and act like this? Boys should aspire to be like men, but some of these men in the NFL, they could learn a lot from my boys.

So, to you, Jamal, how can you possibly explain this to a child? My two boys are here. They are in the control room right now.


JONES: Explain to them why I'm wrong. Why should somebody want to aspire now to join the NFL? Talk to my kids.

ANDERSON: Well, first of all, think about -- think about what it takes to make it to the NFL, about the dedication, the commitment, the intelligence, the physical prowess, the athleticism, the beauty in some instances. Look at the top players that we watch today.

Richie -- Richie Incognito in this clip is an isolated incident, because we're now seeing it. We're seeing a guy. And in fact, if you look at the clip, he's talking to Mike Pouncey. Mike Pouncey today represented nothing but support and positivity toward Richie Incognito. So...

CUPP: But, Jamal, let me push you back there. Christine, I mean, I love the surprised looks on all of our faces when people with problematic histories end up behaving problematically.

Incognito, in fact, was kicked out of two college programs for his anger-related issues. He god into an incident with a coach. He head-butted two people. Aaron Hernandez, now we know, had some problematic incidents before his alleged murder accusations.

I could name a whole list of players that the NFL knew to be either criminally problematic or bad behavior on the field. Isn't the NFL responsible for hiring, defending and promoting people they know to be bad actors?

BRENNAN: Yes. The answer is absolutely yes, it is. And I would say we just heard from the Dolphins, as you mentioned, from the owner. To me this is a crisis in leadership as much as it is a bullying issue.

Why the Miami Dolphins allowed Richie Incognito to be on their leadership council with the history you just described -- and by the way, there was the sexual harassment on the golf course with a woman involved a year or so ago. That's another one.

Now he calls -- he said the other day in his interview, Incognito did, he said, "Oh, I've been a knucklehead." No. No. This is actually illegal behavior.

CUPP: Yes, yes.

BRENNAN: So not -- it's risen from the knucklehead level to something far worse.

Yet the Dolphins wanted him on the leadership council. To me the coach of the Dolphins, Joe Philbin, Jeff Ireland, the general manager, who is the one that suggested that he punch -- or Martin go punch Incognito in the nose, these are the people that you have to say, if you're the NFL commissioner, why do they have jobs?

CUPP: So are the Dolphins -- is the NFL now just pretending to care about the character of the athletes?

BRENNAN: No, I actually think Roger Goodell is in his 50s. I've known Roger for a while. I've known Roger for, gosh, more than 25 years. And I do think he cares.

And I also think...

JONES: You agree with that? ANDERSON: No question about it.

BRENNAN: But it's also a PR issue. Even if you didn't care, you have to care. Because again, your audience is demanding that you do.

ANDERSON: I have to point out, though, because of the heightened attention and focus and the popularity of the NFL, there is just a small, small percentage of the 1,800-plus players who get in off-field activities like this.

CUPP: Sure. Sure.

JONES: You know, one thing: I think part of the reason that so many people are interested in this and trying to pull this apart and figure it out, I think just what does it mean to be a man now? There's a tug of war over it.

Some people are afraid that we're going to be too thuggish, too brutal. Other people are afraid that -- and people are starting to criticize Martin for having backed out. Some say we're going to turn into a nation of wusses.

Isn't this a false choice? Like, for instance, aren't -- don't you think it's a good thing that something like a Martin, rather than throwing a punch, rather than going and getting a gun, goes to get some help? What does this mean about masculinity?

ANDERSON: I mean, did he go get help, or did he leave? And that's the interesting thing for me. I'm -- I want to really see what Jonathan Martin has to say about this. Because here's the thing about football. Play in and play out, particularly where these guys play, it's called the trenches, man. You have to strike.

CUPP: So are you saying you don't believe him when he said that he...?

ANDERSON: No, absolutely. I think what happened with him, or whatever was going on, I think Jonathan Martin for whatever reason, as sophisticated and talented as he was, to be a second-round pick leaving Stanford to be drafted by the Dolphin, somehow he did not fit in the locker room for the Miami Dolphins.

JONES: You think that he is a wuss. What you're saying...

ANDERSON: I think not say that.

CUPP: You think it seems like it's his fault.

ANDERSON: No. Absolutely not. I want to know what happened. I want to know who are the other characters who harassed him? You know, the problem I have is, I thought about this the other day when we were talking about it on CNN. I wonder if I walked on the street and talked to 40 men with no context to say is it possible to bully another man? So see, what's happening is, you hear NFL players saying, well, he should have struck back because again, play in and play out. This is the game. JONES: Let's look at -- let's look at our communities, though. We're raising up these young men. We don't want them to strike back every time.

ANDERSON: I'm not talking about striking back.

JONES: We want people to be able to -- we want people to be able to hold their ground and to identify, but we're creating a situation now -- and I'm very concerned about this -- you've got a national profile brother who has said this was too much for me, and I had to go get help. And he is being called a wuss by people. Young people may see that and go, "You know what? It may be better to throw your fist than to take a step back and take care of yourself and deal with it differently." What's the message?

ANDERSON: What I'm saying is we have to put it into context of two NFL players who are 6'4"...

JONES: Just because you're NFL, you can't have -- you can't have your feelings hurt?


JONES: You can't have muscles or feelings?

ANDERSON: No. What I'm saying to you is what the NFL requires. You don't -- you have one play. Say he gives up a sack. The very next play, he's lined up against another 350-pound guy. Your expectation is to battle back on that play. That's what NFL guys are trying to understand.

CUPP: Quickly, Christine, I'm with Van on the mental illness thing. I think it's important that these...

ANDERSON: It's critically important. Of critical importance.

CUPP: ... to say openly, "I need help." But isn't it interesting, most of the support I've heard from the players has been for Incognito.


CUPP: What do you make of that?

BRENNAN: Well, that's the team rallying around its players.

The NFL is not for everybody. And so there is that option, that maybe Martin, it was just time for him to say, "I don't want to do this anymore."

CUPP: Yes.

BRENNAN: It is a violent game; it's an extraordinary game. It does -- it's not for everybody. So that's a possibility with Martin.

I also think when you pull back the curtain on anything, this is why the story is so intriguing to everybody. It's showing us something that we've never gotten inside before.

CUPP: Sure.

BRENNAN: That can -- that's warts and all. That can be, again, very good. But I think we also have to step back and say what we know and what we don't know about the situation.

CUPP: All right. Well, stay here, because next we "Ceasefire." Is there anything the two of you, maybe the two of us, can agree on?

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question: "Would you want your child to play in the NFL?" Tweet "yes" or "no" using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after the break.


CUPP: We're back with Christine Brennan and Jamal Anderson. Now let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything we can agree on -- Christine?

BRENNAN: I think so for sure. I think to have a hazing or bullying policy for the NFL, in the 21st Century, I think it's a good thing.

I also think we can agree that concussions are a bigger story, probably, than this. And what a shame that this story, as important as it is, has overshadowed the news that Tommy Dorset and several other Hall of Fame players now have CTE. And they also are showing...

CUPP: And that's a 20-year old story that's been developing that still has not been solved.

ANDERSON: I can agree with you. I treated out as much after, that I thought Roger Goodall would implement some sort of policies to make sure this type of thing doesn't happen.

This story is so big, Christine, because this is a first look, extended look inside what's going on in our locker room of the most popular sport in America. So people are fascinated by the dynamics that we're hearing, the relationships that are being reported about the teams.

But there are so many other positive football players and things going on in football that unfortunately those things are being overshadowed right now by what's happening in Miami. And I hope for the Miami Dolphins' sake and for the sake, obviously, of players in the NFL moving forward, that this gets rectified and it's addressed and it's over.

CUPP: Well, and I think we can all agree we look forward to seeing your sons play in the NFL.

JONES: I can't wait.

CUPP: What team, I wonder?

JONES: I want them playing either soccer or this.

ANDERSON: I've got to talk to them. I got an all-star team.

JONES: Your 9-year-old isn't bad on the football field. Mine are bad on the soccer field. Anyway, thank, Christine. I want to thank Christine, and I want to thank Jamal for being here.

Listen, you can go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in still on our "Fireback" question. Would you want your child to play in the NFL? Right now, 44 percent of you say yes; 56 percent say no. So this debate is going to continue in the real world and online at as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get international help to come here, now! This is really, really like bad, worse than hell.

BURNETT: Hundreds of thousands homeless and hungry in the Philippines. We go live to the scene of the typhoon.

Plus a Newtown cop says the massacre still haunts him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That day killed me inside.

BURNETT; Why his bosses want him fired.

And the NFL player at the center of a bullying controversy defends his actions.

INCOGNITO: A week before this went down, Jonathan Martin texted me on my phone: "I will murder your whole F-ing family."



BURNETT: Walking against the rising tide. Tonight, hundreds of thousands fighting for their survival after an historic super storm.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. And "OUTFRONT" tonight, a plea for help.