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Was Dolphins locker room a hostile work environment?

National Football League fans from California to Florida have recently been forced to consider whether locker room hazing is a harmless football rite of passage or something more serious. In a story that has received widespread coverage, Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito has been accused of helping to create a hostile work environment involving racial epithets and threats that may or may not have been a misguided effort to welcome a new player onto the team. Even Incognito admitted he might have gone too far with teammate Jonathan Martin.

Incognito had been dismissed from two college teams as well as one NFL team at the time he joined Miami for actions allegedly including fights, taunting fans, spitting on opponents and more. Since the recent revelations, however, a national discussion has ensued over whether the player was too aggressive for football or just displaying the aggression that makes for a successful player in a violent sport.

Incognito has been accused of a series of acts involving hazing and bullying that caused Martin to leave the team and seek treatment in California. His attorney said that many of the alleged acts went far beyond traditional locker room antics. While some observers have called for a league-wide ban on hazing, others have said that an outright prohibition of this type of activity would be unwise, noting that a culture that has built up over time needs enough time to be lessened gradually or else it couldn't be expected to work.

The National Basketball Association already has a policy in place banning all forms of bullying and hazing by its players. It is expected that the current controversy will cause the National Football League to pay more attention to its existing policies on workplace harassment and hostile working conditions.

Source: USA Today, "Stakes high for Jonathan martin, Richie Incognito, others in Dolphins bullying investigation", Tom Pelissero, November 15, 2013

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