November 15, 2013
There are several world events that are currently being covered in the news that are vastly more important than the Richie Incognito story. Women who protest sexism in Islamic countries are being gang raped by locals, tyrants are releasing sarin gas onto their own followers, and a typhoon has displaced more than 580,000 people in the Philippines. But the story that saddens me the most as a red-blooded, American male is the tale of Incognito and Jonathon Martin. This story encompasses everything that is wrong in sports, drudging up the worst behaviors in people. People are outraged because the story of these two men brings racism and other detestable conflicts into the forefront of America’s most loved and most watched game, football. However, the crux of this story revolves around bullying not bigotry.
Richie Incognito is a bully by nature. He plays on the offensive line and is required to push smaller men around on the field everyday in order to give his team a chance to win. He makes his living by being bigger, stronger, and more intimidating than the guy who lines up across from him. However, Incognito brought the on-field play into the locker room this season. He harassed his teammate, Jonathon Martin, called him racial slurs, and berated him constantly during his tenure with the Miami Dolphins. Allegedly, Incognito was asked by the coaching staff to toughen Martin up, and he took no exception to his task. He physically accosted Martin at least once according to reports, bullied him into paying $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas that he did not want to attend, threatened his life (whether in jest or not), and ultimately the strain of professional football became too much for Martin. Jonathon Martin left the Miami Dolphins and checked himself into a hospital due to emotional distress. His agent released several statements to the press about Incognito’s role in his decision and various quotes that Incognito made. These statements included several vulgar, disconcerting acts, and they were aimed at not just Martin, but also his mother and sister. The media pushed the story into every social media outlet, and Richie Incognito was suspended from the Miami Dolphins indefinitely.
In any normal workplace, these actions would be deemed intolerable and punished swiftly to the full extent of the law. The consequent lawsuits that would arise from those deplorable actions could sink a company, but the National Football League is a different type of corporation, and the atmosphere in a locker room more closely resembles a frat house than the well-run business that it is. There is a culture of toughness, shit-talk, and loyalty in every franchise. This is why the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal did not surprise any former football player, and it also why ex-NFL players, the current Miami Dolphins, and most ex-athletes have sided with Richie Incognito rather than his proposed victim, Jonathon Martin.
Jonathon Martin is unlike any victim of bullying that ever existed, and he is very difficult to defend in this situation. How does a 6’6″, 340 pound man get pushed around by anyone, especially since Martin also plays offensive lineman, a position that is completely contingent on his ability to push other people around? The situation that Jonathon Martin finds himself in is at least partially his own fault. Men, regardless of their profession, should be able to defend themselves when the occasion arises, and Martin was born with more physical tools to defend himself than most men. Martin’s physical inability to protect himself and the emotional instability that he showed as a result of Incognito’s attacks proved that Martin was not a viable option on the offensive line for Miami. And, his handling of the bullying by Incognito was as poor as any player could have handled it. He broke the cardinal rule of football, “Handle all problems in-house.” This means that Martin should have either informed the coaching staff that he felt threatened by Incognito or he should have confronted him physically. Martin proved to not only be soft (a mortal sin in football), but he also has been proven to be the most intolerable type of person in sports, a rat.
Incognito stands in a completely different situation. He has been accused of bullying a teammate in an era when the public conscious has been raised on that very thing. Bullying has led to an unprecedented rate of injury in the recent past and has reached a high level of national intolerance. Several teens have committed suicide because of the treatment that they have received from their peers, so anti-bullying campaigns have been raised everywhere to increase awareness of the phenomena. Incognito is in the unique situation where he may have actually been goaded to harass his teammate by coaches in order to toughen him up, but the offensive lineman seems to be the sole bearer of the responsibility for his actions because of his reputation.
Unfortunately, both of these players are victims in this incident. Because the case reached the media, Incognito will be ostracized from most NFL franchises. His use of the N-word and his poor timing with the bullying of a teammate will leave him off of professional football rosters in the near future. And, Jonathon Martin has derailed his own NFL career by showing his own inadequacy and compounding that by showing disloyalty to the team.