Lewis: Incognito, Martin and football locker-room mentality

Lewis: Incognito, Martin and football locker-room mentality
November 8, 2013, 11:15 am
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The one thing I've learned with the very fast and free flowing information we receive through social media and the Internet is that sometimes everyone wants to jump to conclusions and make strong comments well before they have all the information and facts. For that reason I wanted to wait and hear and learn more about the Miami Dolphins' situation before making any comments. There is still more to come on the story, but I've been asked countless times this week about my thoughts and I thought I would share my experiences and knowledge of football teams, the dynamics of how they work, especially off the field and in the locker room where it seems the focus the last week has been.

For these purposes I feel it's only right to draw on my own personal experiences and those of my friends.

There has been criticism of Miami coaches for allegedly telling Richie Incognito to toughen Jonathan Martin up (this doesn't mean send racial and hateful texts).

This is not anything new in football. When you begin playing football at the Pop Warner level, the first thing you are taught is to be tough. You can't play football if you hang your head when you get beat or something doesn't go your way. If you would get beat or knocked down a coach would say, "Get up, don't let him beat you like that," or, "Are you going to let that happen again?" You get the point. It's any variety of things to make you mentally tough. That started for me at 10 years old. Football players become wired to fight back and battle when things don't go your way and to not hang your head and quit.

[MORE: Bears' Marshall: Bullying not limited to Dolphins]

The football locker room on most teams is comprised like this: You have guys from the inner city or rougher neighborhoods, mostly black. You have a few black and white kids from more suburban areas and often a couple kids from really well-off families. Out west in places like the Pac-12, where I played, there were also lots of Samoan and Hawaiian kids.

The dynamics of a football team and locker room are what is the most difficult thing for people outside to understand.

When I arrived at the University of Arizona my freshmen year, I was shocked to find so may other black players that didn't like me because I didn't grow up in the city, dressed different and spoke "proper English." At the time my dad was coaching with the San Francisco 49ers, so they had an idea of my background.

Along with the few other black players that grew up outside city areas, we all were subjected to comments and jabbing by guys. At first it was no doubt difficult because you felt unaccepted by your own teammates. It was hard to understand that you were disliked because of the fact you didn't have to worry about getting shot on your way home from school when growing up or because you simply went to a good school or your parents were successful.

And it wasn't just a one-way street. I didn't see why they thought acting a certain way made them "more black" or tougher. Some of the white guys were given a hard time because of where they were from or what they did. The bottom line is everyone gave it to everyone, and you had to stand up for yourself. I never had to physically fight anyone, but at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds my freshmen year, I never let anyone of any size bully me. You can't allow it.

After a year or so everything calms down. Guys earn their place and respect through play and how they deal with their teammates.

[RELATED: Hunter Hillenmeyer admits he was bullied during Bears days]

The one thing I always knew was that my guys always had my back and I had theirs on and off the field. As time went by, every guy was like a brother even though they might not be your best friend. We had  guys with lots of personalities and egos, but when it was all said and done, it's family and nothing but love to this day. You realize that everyone is used to being around certain types of people. It was a change for all of us, which is why growing together and becoming brothers makes the whole experience one that guys always cherish. The scenario was the same when I went to the Lions and Packers as a free agent and in the World League with the New York/New Jersey Knights.

My brother dealt with the same thing when he played at San Diego State. He had to fight on the field and earn respect. It's nothing new, and it's the type of thing that has gone on forever in football. He was 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds and started four years at cornerback.

As far as Miami, I was waiting to see the players' reaction. That tells you everything you need to know. They didn't respect Jonathan Martin for some reason. It confuses me a bit, but I'm not there and I know there is always more than those of us outside will know. Martin was a starter, so he proved he could play. I agree with what most players have said though.

I heard Mike Golic on ESPN say he would have handled it differently, and that is what most players will tell you. It doesn't mean physically fight, but maybe. Golic was also 100-percent right saying that a fight in a locker room with teammates lasts about five seconds because everyone gets involved. When it's done it's done. There is no gang mentality where guys go back for revenge. Sometimes it's the way problems are solved permanently. I've seen it happen many times.

Nobody is saying what happened to Martin is right or OK, but whenever you take something out of the locker room it's never a good thing, right or wrong. I'm hoping if the Dolphins are a real team that they would have had Martin's back if he needed them, just as my guys always had mine. If they didn't then they shouldn't call themselves football players because no matter what you can't leave one of your guys behind. If they knew they were emotionally getting to him and kept pushing his buttons they should be ashamed, but if Martin didn't stand up and say enough is enough and let it be known to everyone he wasn't taking it, then it probably went on too long. I've never heard of a team that would hammer a guy like that for so long, and that's why he needed to stand up.

Big-time football also isn't for everyone. It's alpha dogs constantly trying to dominate a group of other alpha dogs. People say football is about physical toughness, which it is, but the mental toughness is often what allows you to not only survive but thrive.