Cam Cleeland, who was Richie Incognito’s teammate, called him a “scumbag” who was a locker room “cancer” when Cleeland played with Incognito on the Rams, a team Incognito was kicked off of because of on and off-the-filed problems including drug abuse and disorderly behavior with coaches, players, and officials.
Before Incognito came into the league, Cleeland was a victim of a brutal hazing incident himself that rocked the NFL nearly 15 years ago. As the Los Angeles Times recounts, “the last time Cam Cleeland had two good eyes, a pillowcase was being pulled over his head.” Cleeland still has trouble seeing out of one eye because players almost took out his eye socket by pounding his head with bags full of coins.
“I’m not afraid to say that he was an immature, unrealistic scumbag,” Cleeland said. “When it came down to it, he had no personality, he was a locker-room cancer, and he just wanted to fight everybody all the time. It was bizarre beyond belief.”
Fifteen years ago, Cleeland had to run through a gauntlet with “pillowcase over his head” while veterans took free shots at him.
“Guys were just rabid,” recalled Cleeland, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound tight end from the University of Washington. “And you had a couple guys in the front that would stand in a three-point stance, and you would fire off the line like he was going to knock you over.
“Guys were like, ‘He’s got a bum ankle! We don’t care!’ And as I got to the end, I got punched in the nose, so my nose was bleeding. As I rolled my head, I got kicked in the leg and my ankle rolled. I brought my head up …”
And that’s when the fateful blow came, one that not only changed Cleeland’s life but turned a spotlight on the dark underbelly of professional football.
Cleeland was clubbed in the face by a sock filled with coins, coins that free-agent linebacker Andre Royal had spent all day collecting from teammates. Nobody knew what he planned to do with them, but they had donated them by the fistful.
In a story that even shocked the NFL then, “the shot shattered Cleeland’s eye socket and nearly cost him his eye, which now provides him only with partial vision. He also suffered a badly broken nose. At first, Cleeland didn’t know the severity of his injuries”:
“I was full of adrenaline at that time,” he said. “You’re in that fight-or-flight mode, survival mode. You’ve got to get through. So I made it through, and next thing you know my nose is bleeding all over.”
He wasn’t the only one. Defensive lineman Jeff Danish made it through the gantlet at a sprint but wound up crashing through a plate-glass window at the end of the hall. Only a safety bar kept him from sailing out the window and falling three stories. He ended up with 13 stitches in his left arm and later sued the Saints.
The gauntlet was mandatory. For instance, guard “Chris Naeole even hobbled through it on crutches when he was fresh off knee surgery. He still was kicked and punched.”
If players did not go through the gauntlet, urine was thrown under their doors while players urinated on their clothes and personal belongings. One lineman, Kyle Turley, who Incognito has said was one of his idols, got his knee hurt so badly during the hazing incident that he says he “had so much pain medication in me to play for the first month of the season it was crazy.”
“Any NFL player that gives Martin a hard time — I don’t know him — but any guy who says, ‘This guy should have been a tough guy, should have stood up to him,’ it’s BS,” he told the Times. “I don’t care if you’re a good guy or not, you don’t deserve that kind of treatment in any workplace. You’ve got to be tough. We’re all tough guys. But in the end, you’re still a human being”: