A former NFL player who admits he used to bully rookies into paying expensive meals says the once light-hearted tradition has become mean and threatening and must be stopped.
Marcellus Wiley, who was a defensive end in the NFL until 2006 and is a commentator for ESPN, spoke a day after Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito was suspended from the team for expletive-laced rants and hazing of fellow teammates.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Monday that the team suspended Incognito indefinitely after Jonathan Martin turned in voicemails and text messages showing Incognito using the N-word to describe Martin and threatened his family, according to ESPN.
Last week, Fox Sports reported that Martin and other rookies had been forced to pay thousands of dollars for dinner tabs and vacations for more veteran members of the team.
The NFL is now investigating the Dolphins' workplace, according to Philbin.
Marcellus Wiley, who played professional football in the NFL until 2006, told ABC News in light of the Incognito allegations that the culture of bullying has become meaner in recent years, and the rift between rookies and veterans more pronounced.
"Times have changed and rookies have changed since 1997," Wiley said of the year he started in the NFL. "We were humble and respectful of veterans and cooperative. When I retired, rookies walked in there with audacity, knowing they had guaranteed contracts, saying they made more than you guys, I'm not talking to you or doing any of this stuff."
Wiley admitted he had been teased and made to do embarrassing things when he was a young player, and in turn made young players pay for his $32,000 meal tab when he was a veteran. Wiley said that at the time, it all seemed in good fun.
"I came into the NFL not really understanding what NFL culture was about and what we'd have to go through," Wiley said.
"So I was a little blindsided by the rites of passage of being rookie, which for me included getting duct taped to the goal post, getting baby powder poured on you, or Gatorade, or water, or basically anything sticky that was fluid, something to totally embarrass you. You know, clothes being torn, being taped to a goal post in the nude. But I did it all with a smile. I never thought I was a victim or being bullied."
Wiley said that when he became a veteran, he made rookies take him and teammates out to dinner at Morton's.
"I not only ordered my appetizer and my entree and my dessert, but I order leftovers to take home. I ordered champagne to take home," he said.
He stuck some rookies with a $32,000 bill, but never looked at is as abuse. The rookies never brought it up as a problem, Wiley said.
"I didn't think it was abuse, but I'm desensitized. I was both a victim and a bully, and never had conversations about it," he said, noting that he's still friends with the rookies who picked up his tabs.
"I think the line of demarcation has to be this calendar year. When you have the N-word being communicated in public by one player to another player within the fraternity of the NFL, and it was in the Incognito voicemail, and the big thing was ending it with 'I'll kill you,' in the same calendar year where we have Aaron Hernandez indicted for murdering a semi-pro football player. The term of the threat has changed drastically."
Dave Pear, a former NFL player who played in the 1970s and 80s, said that hazing has become much more intense today than it ever was when he was playing for the Colts, Buccaneers, or Raiders.
"Back when I played, which was in the 70s, rookies did things like maybe have to sing at meals or do menial type jobs for veteran players, but it was all in good fun, and there was a lot of laughing," Pear said. "Rookies never had to take the veterans out and buy them expensive meals. It sounds like this is bullying."
"It hurts the team more than it helps. You want to bring people together not divide them. It sounds like it was something that needs to be dealt with," he said. "That's not professional. This is supposed to be professional football."
Both Pear and Wiley said that the NFL needed to address the intense hazing of young players.
"People think of abuse in physical terms, but what about emotional content? It took tremendous courage for Jonathan Martin to step out," Wiley said. "It's time for all of us to step up to the microphone and address this honestly, forthrightly, and move forward."