When Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith reported to his first training camp two years ago, he anticipated being hazed by veteran teammates. He had heard the stories and watched shows like HBO's "Hard Knocks" that glorified the behavior and was prepared to be rudely welcomed to the NFL.
But to his surprise, the rookies were welcomed by leaders like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, who made it clear that the team had more important things to worry about.
"They take us right in and were like, 'All right, we need you guys to be ready to play. We don't have time to haze. You got to sing, buy your Popeye's, but that's it,'" Smith said Wednesday. "It's more so a family atmosphere and welcoming you in rather than tearing you down or isolating you. I don't get how hazing even brings a team closer. It's stupid to me."
The topics of hazing and bullying are being discussed in NFL locker rooms after the Miami Dolphins suspended veteran guard Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team for allegedly harassing teammate Jonathan Martin, a second-year offensive tackle. The misconduct allegedly began as rookie hazing and escalated beyond that this April when Incognito left Martin a voicemail with racial slurs and physical threats.
Smith said Wednesday that such a thing would never be allowed to happen with the Ravens.
"We have great leadership and guys are focused on trying to win," Smith said. "If you are going to sit there and bully a rookie who you're going to need or keep him up at night hazing him, or have him scared to come to work the next day, how is that person going to help you when you need him?"
Martin stormed out of the Dolphins cafeteria last week after an incident with Incognito and his follow linemen. Martin, who is still on the active roster, has not yet rejoined the team. Members of the team's leadership council, which includes former Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, said that they weren't aware of any issues between the two before last week.
"I really have a hard time believing that the guys in the Miami Dolphins locker room knew that was taking place, that he was leaving racial slurs on his voicemail and having racially-charged attacks on Jonathan Martin," defensive end Chris Canty said. "I don't think that would take too well in an NFL locker room, including the Dolphins' locker room. I don't think guys understood the extent of what was going on."
The NFL is investigating the relationship between Incognito and Martin, but some of Incognito's teammates say Incognito would be welcomed back in the locker room.
The Ravens made it clear, though, that such behavior wouldn't be welcome in their locker room.
"We all recognize that an NFL locker room is a different kind of workplace," Canty said. "That being said, there's still no place for that. Racial slurs, there's no place for it, and I don't think guys will stand for it."
Hazing has long been a rite of passage in professional sports, particularly football. Ravens coach John Harbaugh remembers being taped to goal posts and shoved into lockers by upperclassmen while he was in seventh grade. He also spoke of seeing hazing when he played at the Miami University of Ohio, though he said it was not detrimental to the team.
"There sure as heck better be a line there," he said. "I look back on it, and it was things that you would never tolerate today. So we've grown as a society and maybe we are growing past some of that stuff. But you see it in all areas of life. We better be more tuned into it."
The extent of hazing for Ravens rookies under Harbaugh has been veterans making rookies sing in front of the team during training camp, carry their shoulder pads after practice or pick up fast food before the team leaves on road trips. Under former coach Brian Billick, the Ravens had a little more fun at their expense, temporarily taping rookies to the goal posts or throwing them in the cold tub.
"I'd rather them tape me to the goal post than have to sing in front of the team," quarterback Joe Flacco said, reminiscing about his rookie year. "That's kind of what we do around here. … We have a good group of guys and anything that we do is all good-natured."
After the incident between Incognito and Martin, that type of behavior may be scrutinized more in the NFL as coaches and players make sure playful pranks don't turn into bullying. The Ravens feel, though, that what happened is not typical in most locker rooms.
"To think that happens in locker rooms, I don't know," strong safety James Ihedigbo said. "It seems to be way more personal between those two individuals and not something that can be looked at as 'This takes place across the NFL.' Because it doesn't."
Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun