By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Marc Trestman had a clear message for his new football team.
“I told the team the first night, when you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody’s here to help you win.”
Throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason, Trestman preached the importance of treating teammates with respect and playing for each other. He did so to avoid the kind of divide that is going on in Miami right now, where Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins because of incessant bullying by Richie Incognito, who has since been suspended indefinitely.
With two starting offensive linemen now away from the team, the Dolphins’ “ability to win” has certainly been compromised.
“Our whole foundation is built on respect for everyone in the organization, respect for the players, respect for the game, honoring the game. We talked about it a lot,” Trestman said.
The Bears head coach has spent time with nine different NFL organizations, including the Dolphins in 2004, and he said some of those places had hazing and others didn’t. He’s seen it first hand as an assistant and he didn’t want it in his locker room when he finally got his chance to be an NFL head coach.
“We’re not talking about taking a helmet and walking off the field with a helmet,” he said. “We’re talking about other things. The words you use, the way you act, the things you say, affect people from all different backgrounds and places. We’ve got to understand that the beauty of this game is it draws people from everywhere, from different realities and different perceptions, but that can all be neutralized through respect and using the proper language and proper words in the right place and the right time, in this building, on the field and when we’re out in the community because we represent the entire city.”
But that message was initially met with some resistance and skepticism by some players, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who played two years with the Dolphins before getting traded to the Bears.
“There were some things we were like, ‘Man, this goes on in every locker room, we’d love to continue to do it.’ But coach just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to nip that in the bud, I want guys to focus on football and everyone just focus on their job and not a rookie night or what the guys might do to me the next day,’” Marshall said.
The Bears wide receiver has a unique perspective on the issue because he played with Incognito in Miami and said he still keeps in contact with him.
“It was kind of disturbing to see some of the things that were said, but I also know that it isn’t an isolated incident,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately, it’s the culture of the NFL.”
Marshall also has the unique perspective of having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which can leave one vulnerable.
“What’s going on in Miami goes on in every locker room, but it’s time for us to start talking, maybe have group sessions where guys sit down and talk about what’s going on off the field, what’s going on in the building. And not mask everything. Because the (more) it goes untreated, the worse it gets,” he said.
Marshall has seen many different types of hazing in his eight-year NFL career, including guys getting their eyebrows and heads shaved, but said he had it easy as a rookie in Denver, where Rod Smith and Javon Walker only asked him to do “simple things” like stock the room with sunflower seeds and “occasionally bring in some donuts.”
“I made sure I did those things, even carry his helmet off the practice field, so it won’t escalate into something serious,” Marshall said. “I’m a true believer in ‘do unto others what was done unto you.’ Because it was never done to me — someone throwing me in the cold tub or shaving my head — I don’t do that to my guys. I just want guys to respect the veterans that are in our room and understand it’s a privilege to be in that room. And you have to earn it.”
The “earn it” part is probably where Marshall initially hesitated when Trestman “put his fist down from the beginning” on hazing, but the wide receiver and his teammates appear to understand where the line is.
“Here, it’s different,” Marshall said. “We look at rookies different. You have to earn your stripes, earn your place on the team, or earn your place in the NFL. As far as crossing that line, disrespecting guys, demeaning guys, that just doesn’t happen here.”
And there’s no better example of that than Marshall’s relationship with second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who a year ago was carrying Marshall’s pads off the field in Bourbonnais, but has since benefitted from being taken under the veteran’s wing, even training with Marshall in Florida during the offseason.
That relationship started before Trestman ever arrived in Chicago, but bullying did occur in Lovie Smith’s locker room in the past. Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer told 670 The Score Wednesday that he went through it in 2004 when he was filling in for Brian Urlacher, who was injured at the time.
“I hated coming into work because of Olin (Kreutz). He was a jerk,” Hillenmeyer said. “He was riding me because I was the third-year guy, or second-year guy trying to fill in for a superstar. I can relate in the sense that you’re going to have people in your workplace that you don’t necessarily like.”
Hillenmeyer went on to explain some of the benefits of Kreutz’s actions because it kept the locker room in line.
“People were going to come to OTAs and they weren’t going to have loose lips with the media, they weren’t going to do a lot of things to damage the locker room – not because they didn’t want to, but because they were scared of Olin,” he said.
But that’s part of the problem. Players were scared of Olin Kreutz and they were worried about what he might do or think in the locker room. Trestman wants his players worrying about winning football games.
“We’re not going to spend time having players worry about things that can’t help us win and are going to be disrespectful,” Trestman said.
Right now, in Miami, the Dolphins are probably wishing they had taken the same approach.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.