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NFL

Steelers say 'family atmosphere' in locker room prevents bullying

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Troy Polamalu walks off the field after the Steelers lost 21-18 to the Raiders on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Oakland, Calif.

One of Troy Polamalu's biggest worries after being drafted by the Steelers was not how quickly he could get on the field but whether he was going to be forced to get his hair cut as part of a rookie hazing ritual.

“I would've done it,” Polamalu admitted. “But thank God I wasn't drafted anywhere else but here.”

Polamalu's comments came on the heels of the suspension of Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito after allegations of over-the-top and ongoing bullying of teammate Jonathan Martin.

The Steelers vowed Wednesday that their locker-room mentality hasn't surpassed more than joking around or playful back-and-forth jabs.

“Around here, it's just more getting breakfast, getting lunch and things like that,” Ben Roethlisberger said.

Safety Ryan Clark echoed that sentiment.

“I never heard anything of that extent or anything as vulgar or as foul as what's going on in Miami,” he said, “but there is some banter that goes back and forth between players who are friends.”

Polamalu said the reason there never have been any hazing rituals with the Steelers is because of the owner.

“I realize different teams and organizations have different personalities and different ways they run their team, but we have always had a family atmosphere here,” Polamalu said, “and that's started with the Rooneys and the foundation that they have laid for this organization.”

But that hasn't prevented incidents from occurring.

Albeit mild compared to what's going on in Miami, last year during training camp, rookie Alameda Ta'amu said he was told to take a late-night walk to a nearby store to purchase snacks for some of the defensive players.

Ta'amu walked almost 4 miles round-trip, and it ended up costing him two days of practice after he suffered a foot injury.

Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch — a 15-year veteran who left the game this year — said he witnessed hazing and bullying during his time in the NFL.

Batch played four years for the Lions and the final 11 years for the Steelers.

“I've seen it,” said Batch, the national spokesman for the Dignity & Respect Campaign for Youth. “Somebody says bullying, but for years, it was called hazing. But it is the same exact thing. It is something that needs to change.”

Batch said all the locker rooms he has been around during his career were policed by the veteran players.

“You can have some fun, but you can do it in a respectful way,” Batch said. “When you talk about the seriousness of bullying, now you add the element of professional football players bullying, and this is a problem — a major problem that has been around for a very long time. Now, this takes it to another level.”

It's not uncommon to see Steelers coach Mike Tomlin or general manager Kevin Colbert patrolling the locker room after practice.

Clark said the atmosphere surrounding the circumstances under which Martin left the Dolphins need to be addressed with league guidelines. But Clark acknowledged that it could become a slippery slope when it comes to rookies paying their dues entering the league.

“I think some guidelines should be set in place,” Clark said. “No one should have to endure that in their workplace, whether they work for IBM or for the Miami Dolphins. I honestly wouldn't have had any problem with Jonathan Martin hitting Richie Incognito in the head with a weight, but that's illegal and he'd go to jail and he shouldn't do that.

“I think he handled it the right way by not being physical, by not causing more trouble by making a rash, emotional decision to retaliate with physical action.”

Polamalu added: “I would like to say that I would do the right thing if I witnessed it, and I have never been put in that situation. Thank God.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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