Miami Dolphins’ ninth-year offensive guard Richie Incognito is on suspension and talking heads on sports networks are claiming his career with Miami is over. Second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin has left the team, accusing Incognito of bullying via threatening emails and racially charged voicemails.
Bullying is an issue that has been on the American discussion table for quite some time now. In the extreme cases when words are used as weapons and young men and women feel so damaged that suicide or gruesome retaliation become viable options, something clearly needs to be done. I believe our intentions as a country to end bullying are of the highest nobility. However, I also believe there is far more to the Martin story that we are not seeing.
In the world of professional sports, specifically football, we like our athletes big and mean. We want the offensive linemen to be the kind of people we feel the need to check our closets for at night. Millionaire monsters that get their paychecks by pounding each other to dust for 16 games per season.
Whether it’s right or not, professional kickers don’t sell the jerseys. Defensive linebackers—such as Ray Lewis, who has 2,061 career tackles to his name—do. Incidentally, Ray Lewis was also questioned for murder in 2000 when a fight broke out at a post-Super Bowl party between his group and another that resulted in the fatal stabbing of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Murder charges were dropped against Lewis after a plea deal was made. When Jonathan Martin signed his contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2012, I have to assume he knew he wasn’t signing up for church camp.
Accusing someone of bullying in today’s society is to immediately toss the said bully’s lot in with the people we have been programmed to hate as a society.
Think of every movie you’ve seen with a bully antagonist. More often than not, there are no redeeming qualities to these individuals.
After hearing of the accusations against Incognito, I initially took Martin’s side (as many others did) and was completely disgusted by his alleged actions. On Wednesday, however, as many fellow players of the two men ended up defending Incognito in locker room interviews, I started to change my mind. Tyson Clabo, a tackle for the team, told reporters that “What’s perceived is that Richie is a psychopath racist, and the reality is Richie was a pretty good teammate. I don’t know why (Martin is) doing this. And the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”
I know it is rarely a good idea to side with the perceived “bad guy,” but I’m going with my gut on this one. In this scenario I see either a whole team conspiring against one rookie player, or a rookie player simply not having the tough skin required to deal with what comes with his profession. In a workplace of raging testosterone where verbal jabs are exchanged frequently between whole teams, I believe the latter is more likely.
The semantics of what actually detonates bullying can be discussed from now until eternity, because everyone has his or her own comfort level and opinion on such matters. I reserve the right to change my mind if it is eventually proven that Incognito is actually the horrible, racist monster that Martin is making him out to be. But for now, I see a young man looking for an excuse to leave a team. I see a player that didn’t have the tough skin to play a tough game.