ASHBURN, Va. -- Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield has seen the controversial video of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul carrying cornerback Prince Amukumara on his shoulder and dunking him into a cold tub. Cofield has seen the fallout from the incident, which was captured on punter Steve Weatherford's cell phone, posted on his Twitter account, then turned into a giant-sized controversy for the defending Super Bowl champions.
And Cofield is hurt by it all.
He spent the first four years of his career with the Giants, winning a Super Bowl as a rookie in 2007 and forging friendships that continue to this day, even though he now plays for the rival Redskins. The perception that the Giants are a team portrayed in a players-gone-wild light leaves Cofield shaking his head in disappointment as he sits in front of his locker before practice.
"When I was there, it wasn't a big hazing team, and I don't think it's an epidemic," said Cofield, who signed a free-agent deal with the Redskins before the 2011 season. "We didn't cut guys' hair or anything like that. You sang your college fight song."
A locker room prank run amok? Sounds more like it, Cofield said. But the bottom line for him during his four years with the team: "I don't think it's something where young guys are scared to come to work because guys are going to be messing with them. Obviously, if it leads to violence, or if it leads to people being unhappy coming to work or having a feeling that they can't perform, that's when you have to step in."
As much as the incident itself, Cofield said the fact that it got outside the locker room was a problem. Weatherford should have known better, something he realized after it was too late. The punter has apologized twice for posting the video and then seeing it go viral, caught up in the tidal wave of the blogosphere.
"You videotape it and put it online, that's where the problem comes in," Cofield said. "That's the breach of trust when you post it on the Internet."
Is the incident indicative of a potentially deeper problem with the organization? Cofield is convinced it is not. And even though he's no longer there, he thinks he's in a position to know, mostly because he stays in touch with several former teammates and has nothing but good feelings toward his first NFL employer.
"That's a first-class organization," he said. "They know what they're doing. There was some language in there [on the video] that wasn't PG [rated], but that's what goes on in a locker room. Getting thrown into an ice tub is not the end of the world. But from my time there, I don't think they've got a problem."
That may be, but Giants coach Tom Coughlin was still correct in putting an end to the practice of players dumping one another into the cold tub.
"Anytime you have a player that could be injured, that is not a good move," Coughlin said.
The coach was also rightly indignant about the foul language used by Pierre-Paul. While his comments to Amukumara were not intended for public consumption, Pierre-Paul, who may very well be the best defensive player in the league and thus a face of the franchise, needs to be more mindful of what he says, regardless of whether or not it appears in a video or in the locker room.
And like it or not, NFL players are held to a higher standard because of the immense popularity of their sport. Kids look up to them, and many of those kids can look at this kind of horseplay and think it's OK for them to engage in it as well. And with the issue of bullying so important in our society -- the Giants as an organization are actively involved in public campaigns against bullying -- this kind of behavior sends the wrong kind of message.
Was Pierre-Paul actually engaged in an act of bullying? And were the players who were walking alongside him and urging him on also bullying? Or was it simply part of the sports culture where locker room shenanigans are an acceptable form of behavior, as long as no one gets hurt?
It's debatable and there are shades of gray when taken into totality, especially after the players have insisted that there are no ill feelings amongst the group. But there is a fine line between having fun and going overboard, and the Giants were certainly walking it in this case. That's why Coughlin was right for eliminating the practice and not allowing the players to get that far.
But I do agree with Cofield that there is not an institutional problem with the Giants. I've been around this organization for too many years, seen too many players go through and seen nearly all of them look back with fond memories of their time with the team.
Cofield is one of them.
"I loved my time with the Giants," he said. "It's a great organization to be associated with. They do things the right way. I think this will blow over, because I don't think it's a huge problem. Guys want to work there. Guys want to play there."