Monday, November 11, 2013

NFL Bullying Scandal: Did Jonathan Martin Bully Richie Incognito?

Anyone who keeps up with professional football at all is probably aware of the so called "bullying scandal" that has taken place in South Florida, and it seems as the media is often wont to do, they have come to conclusions without paying much attention to context. With all of the attention of the media being on Richie Incognito's vile phone message to teammate Jonathan Martin (not to mention his rap sheet), one might assume that this situation was an open and shut case. Included in all that is the cultural shift and emphasis (and understandably so) on the evils of bullying as well as our societies increasing disdain for racial name calling. Many athletes and non-athletes have weighed in on this issue, declaring that clearly all of the Miami Dolphins players were either inexcusably derelict, or liars who are only feigning surprise at the allegations. Of course they cannot possibly be telling the truth, or so some in the media would have us believe. Others say that this whole thing (as do Martin's lawyers) goes well beyond one player, and ultimately is due to a lack of "leadership" in the Dolphins locker room and/or front office. The complaint goes something like this; "How could these players and coaches be unaware of such bad behavior, especially as it was going on all around them? I mean how could these players (and coaches) not know that these crude and threatening things were being said to Mr. Martin about his family and person?" Included in the former, is the accusation that one of the coaches told Incognito to "toughen up" Jonathan Martin. And then to top it all off, when Martin complained to his agent, who then complained to the General Manager- of all people- the GM suggested that he should fight back. OK, it may be a bit of a sophomoric suggestion, but is it so unreasonable to think that in some way, shape, or form, Martin should have done something to stand up for himself that doesn't involve lawyers?

I do not mean to make light of the situation, but is there really news here? What is really shocking about all of this? Yes, I am scandalized and disgusted by some of the things Mr. Icognito has been purported to have said on a phone message (though it is worth mentioning that Martins' attorneys cleverly edited out the friendlier part of the message). Nevertheless, what is far more scandalous in my opinion is the feigned outrage and the self-righteous hand-wringing that has so characterized the media's response to all of this. Oh stop it already, and stop acting liking no one knew these sorts of things were going on in locker rooms and playgrounds across America. Spare me the pretense that these sorts of exchanges and scuffles are alien to such testosterone-laden environs. It is about as shocking as someone telling me that in the military a sergeant will sometimes speak in an untoward manner to one of the soldiers in boot camp. Oh, no, really?

If they in truth want to clean up things in these locker rooms, then fine, but don't become selectively outraged by something that is clearly going on around the NFL! Why didn't Miami coach Joe Philbin know that someone's mama was being talked about, and furthermore that men were using extremely vulgar and racially charged language? I don't know, maybe because they didn't talk that way around their coach, or maybe it is so typical that no one thinks anything of it. Yet whatever the reason, it seems relatively obvious why no one would bat an eye at some of the things that were said to Martin, especially if everyone was saying them to each other. Should they speak this way at all to one another? I don't think so, but I also don't think that Incognito, who I do not deny is the furthest thing from an angel, should be scapegoated by Martin, or anyone else for that matter.

Yet what about the man who brought these charges? What should we say about Jonathan Martin? Is he a hero for coming out and exposing the disgraceful underbelly of an out of control NFL locker room? Or is he perhaps someone who addressed an important issue, but did so in the wrong fashion? I heard one commentator the other day refer to him as a kind of Martin Luther King of the NFL. Really? Are you serious? Dr. King lost his life in an attempt to overcome his enemies by confronting them in a peaceful fashion. Jonathan Martin, by his own admission, apparently never faced anyone or anything at all, and then ran to his lawyers with all the dirty laundry. I'm sorry, the latter account feels a little more than like a first grade tattle tale than a hero (admittedly a tattle tale who weighs close to three-hundred pounds). There is a reason that adults are often skeptical when a child comes to them happy to report some bit of bad news. For in those cases there are often two crimes committed... and the latter, in my opinion, is more egregious than the former. Why? Because there is only one thing worse than the one who commits the sin; the hypocrite who pretends to be interested in justice, when in truth he has an ulterior motive. This is why Jesus offered a very practical, yet profound, way to avoid such phony self-deception. I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that that Dolphin locker room resembled anything approaching some sort of religious cloister, but judging from the players unanimously stunned reaction, they had a sense, if only instinctively, that something was more than a little cowardly about the way that Martin handled the problem;

"If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" Matthew 18:15-17

The point is we are now so Christian as a society that we have become thoroughly un-Christian. In other words, we are so quick to care for the victim (especially of bullying, or any other kind of abuse for that matter), that we neglect due process. Consequently, we discover that there is sometimes a worse form of bullying than actual bullying, a kind that involves playing on populist sentiments about bullies. By handling this in a passive aggressive manner, Martin winds up besmirching and blind-siding not only Incognito, but everyone else in the organization, the good with the wicked. What kind of hero runs to his lawyers with nasty information about how he was victimized, while never doing anything at all to prevent the terrible debacle in the first place?After all, his lawyers' statement essentially implicates everyone in the locker room, suggesting that this was a concerted effort to psychologically and physically traunatize him . Once again, really?!? On this front the speculation is marvelous. I even saw one article which cited some unnamed former player who stated with the typical speculative authority; '… well, he probably felt like he couldn't go to the coach, because coach Philbin doesn't like players who don't seem to be with the program.' Well so what, that's the price you pay for having integrity and being a man. If the coach cuts, or trades you, at least you have your guaranteed three digit pay check to look forward to and your self-respect. Unfortunately, we are told today that having courage and standing up for yourself is not as important as whether or not someone has wronged you and you can squeeze them for all their worth. Who knows how this will ultimately play out, but at this point I am left with the feeling, not of sorrow and sympathy for Jonathan Martin (which I might feel in just about any other circumstance), but rather I am left feeling that Martin was looking for a convenient way out. Was this his way of getting out of football, becoming a martyr, and getting paid, all at the same time? Who knows at this point? In recent days, even former Dolphin diva Brandon Marshall weighed in on the situation, suggesting that we as a society must change the way we raise our boys, for when a little boy falls to the ground we tell him to get back up and brush himself off, while when a little girl does, we console her and tell her that everything is going to be alright. I suppose it depends on the circumstance whether or not such a distinction is useful, but whatever the case, I do not believe that as Americans we can endure another generation of this Purell-applying, callous-fearing, victim-loving culture. Indeed, at this rate, in a generation we will be a race of people so thoroughly soft that we will recoil in fear at the very thought of a pillow fight.

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