The Richie Incognito – Jonathan Martin saga has ignited national discussion on bullying, The N-Word, and what it means to be a “real man”. For some Miami Dolphin teammates of all races, Incognito’s racist taunts were less offensive than Martin not settling matters with his fists. Among Miami Dolphin teammates, the general expressed sentiment was more or less: “It’s better to drop the big N-Word than act like a little B-Word.” Unfortunately, Miami’s infected organization has driven too much media discussion.
This head on collision “Of Race and Men”has produced some excellent social analysis while others have expressed contempt for high-minded sideline philosophizing. In an article that would make Colonel Jessup [A Few Good Men] proud, Nathan Jackson summarized the feelings of thousands of Internet commenters: “Richie Incognito acted like an animal because he lives in the jungle.”
It’s an NFL warrior thing, you civilians wouldn’t understand.
But the warrior thesis has some serious holes. For one, football is not real war. And even still, the real US Marine Corps managed to outlaw hazing in 1997. But mainly, the most pointed and poignant reactions have come directly from NFL players, both from current and recently-retired who have greater freedom to speak candidly without consequence. They are not anomalies. In an ESPN poll of 72 current players, more than twice as many wanted Jonathan Martin on their team over Richie Incognito.
Beyond Incognito and Martin, these players express more condemnation for the leadership within the Miami Dolphin organization — not every single NFL team. Instead of absolving the influence of broader NFL culture, they want to improve it. And instead of weak attempts to redefine racism, they aim to redefine masculinity. These players — the NFL’s silenced majority — deserve to drive this national discussion. Incognito has provided that rare opportunity.
The following CBS NFL player roundtable — which took place at very same time of initial Incognito interview by Fox Sports — is a great place to start.
I. DOLPHIN ORGANIZATION FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP:
Bart Scott on Miami Dolphin General Manager:
“It goes all the way up to Jeff Ireland. What type of leader is he? Because we’re talking about a GM in which was addressed by an agent with a player concern about another player and his response was to hit him in the face. That’s one. Two. We are talking about the same guy who looked [current Dallas Cowboys player] Dez Bryant in his eye and asked if his mother is a prostitute. That’s two. I don’t see where the leadership comes from. Who can this kid [Martin] go to? I can only imagine how lonely it was that he couldn’t take any of these issues to anybody. And I want to commend the young man for handling it that way. He left.”
Cris Carter on Miami Head Coach:
“Joe Philbin as the head coach, the reason why coaches in this league are great is because they care about the players. The reason why (Martin) didn’t want to talk to (Philbin) when they met is because he didn’t trust him. When a young kid can’t go to a coach and tell him what’s happening to him, that’s how guys get weeded out in the football league. But you’ve got to care about these guys.” – [PB Post]
Brandon Marshall on Anti-hazing new Coach Marc Trestman in 2013
“As far as crossing that line? Disrespecting guys? Demeaning guys? That just doesn’t happen here. Actually, Coach (Marc) Trestman did a great job of really going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable from Day One.” [see Chicago Tribune]
Marc Brunell on Anti-hazing Old Coach Mike Holmgren in 1993
“In my first meeting in training camp, he said, ‘Gentleman, there will be no hazing. There will be no hazing…You know what? I didn’t get hazed. Mike Holmgren set the culture of that locker room immediately. It has to come from the head coach.” [ESPN]
Herm Edwards, on Control of Coaches
“In the 20 years I’ve coached, a situation like this has never happened. This would never happen on my watch because ground rules would be established. …Coaches can’t control who wins or loses, but they can control the environment in the workplace.” [ESPN]
“If that had happened in Baltimore, we probably would’ve approached Incognito and told him to stop because we would’ve needed Martin to help us win. If that didn’t work, we would’ve gone to [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and [head coach] John Harbaugh and tried to get him out of there. And if it didn’t stop there — and I’m not calling Incognito a punk — then somebody would’ve put hands on him.” [ESPN]
Jimmy Cefalo, former Dolphins Receiver:
“That’s the one thing I’ve heard from every single former player … there’s a lack of leadership.’” [Wash Times]
II. ON THE N-WORD USED BY A WHITE PLAYER
London Fletcher, 16-Year Vet: “Offensive as an African-American Player’
“I played sixteen years in the National Football League. Three teams. This is not the culture of the National Football League. There’s not some type of barbaric community where you have a bunch of guys running around making rookies do whatever they want to do, using racial slurs whenever, however, wherever they want to. This is a weak justification by Richie Incognito to justify what he did to Jonathan Martin. To use the ‘I’m a product of my environment’ defense, that’s offensive to me as an African-American player, that’s offensive to me as a person in the National Football League as well.”
Jon Jansen, 1999-2009: On Same Enforcing Role as A White Teammate
“I didn’t know that there was a license [for white player to use N-Word] that can be handed out. That’s not something that I would do. It’s not something that on teams that I was on that I would allow to happen whether it’s a rookie, a veteran. The leadership has to come from guys in the lockerroom… When you talk about the leadership at the top, they have to be able to recognize ‘who do we need in that lockerroom’.”
Is it Sometimes Okay?
Lawrence Jackson, Detroit Lions: “I can tell you this. As a black guy, it’s never okay for a white guy to call me the n-word. Never.” [CBS]
Willie McGinest: “I have never been in a locker room in my 15 years of football where somebody would say that and guys would stand around and laugh.” [More at NFL.com]
Bart Scott: “It’s never allowed. Eleven years [in league]. I’ve never seen anything like this. If Richie Incognito believes this is acceptable, then maybe he is the problem. Maybe that type of culture follows him. But that is not what the NFL is all about… I think it’s just despicable.”
Hines Ward, future Hall of Famer:
“Being biracial myself, I understand Jonathan Martin, because I had to deal with some of those same issues growing up. As a child, I was bullied and discriminated against because I was of mixed race… [I]n the locker room we don’t play with the ‘N’ word. When a guy calls another man of the opposite race the ‘N’ word, there are no more games being played.” [Fansided]
Shannon Sharpe, Hall of Famer, on Honorary Blackness:
“Some black players said Incognito was an honorary black. There’s no such thing. This tells me everything I need to know about the Miami Dolphins locker room. How we got here. Why we got here… I’m 45, I grew up in rural south Georgia. Ask your parents, ask your grandparents. The mountain that they climbed so a black person in America can have respect, can have dignity. And you allow this, in an open locker room to take place, is unacceptable.” [see CBS Video]
Warren Sapp, Hall of Famer :
“Honorary brother, my ass.” [USA Today]
III. ON MISGUIDED MASCULINITY IN NFL
Brandon Marshall on NFL Culture Problem
“Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is “Get up. Shake it off. You will be OK. Don’t cry.” When a little girl falls down, what do we say? “It’s going to be OK.” We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we are teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions. It’s that times a hundred with football players. You can’t show that you’re hurt. You can’t show any pain. So, for a guy that comes into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, you know, that’s a problem. So that’s what I mean by “The Culture of the NFL,” and that’s what we have to change.” [see The Nation]
Terrelle Pryor, on “Being A Man”
“I hope that we see [Jonathan] Martin playing again soon – I’ve watched some tape of him, he’s a good player, Hats off to him for standing up and being a man.” [More at ThinkProgress]
“I heard some of the guys throughout the league say that Jonathan Martin should be a man and fight back. But for me it takes a bigger man to walk away from the situation.” [Fansided]
Cam Cleeland, Former Teammate of Incognito:
“[Incognito] was a locker-room cancer, and he just wanted to fight everybody all the time. It was bizarre beyond belief… 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. 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.” [DeadSpin]
IV: ON NEED TO REFORM NFL CULTURE
Boomer Esiason — NFL Should Eliminate Excessive Hazing:
“There is no reason for hazing in the NFL. It’s a ridiculous tradition. …The fact that Jonathan Martin had to deal with this for two years is absolutely ridiculous. “ –– Video
Roddy White, Falcons Wide Receiver:
“For guys to go completely that far — and make [Martin] have to take those steps where he’s checking into a place where he needs help — at that point, you’re damaging him. Things like that have to change. You can’t really go out there and make a guy feel like he doesn’t want to be in the locker room because besides the field, this is the safest place. It should feel that way because we look at it as a family atmosphere.”
Brandon Marshall — Provide Opportunities for Group Therapy:
“It’s time for us to start talking, maybe have some group sessions where guys sit down and talk about what’s going on off the field or what’s going on in the building and not mask everything because the [longer] it goes untreated, the worse it gets. Unfortunately you see this kid, Martin, he’s been harboring these feelings for the past two years and now he’s at a boiling point where he has to walk out. It’s a good thing that it didn’t escalate to something more serious. But it’s time for us to take a look at some things that we can do that are proactive and start with some group sessions or group therapy or other innovative things out there.” More here
Myron Rolle — NFL Should Raise Awareness and take Action Against Bullying
“If Jonathan Martin had been fortunate enough to have a similar team culture to what I experienced [in college and NFL], he would be preparing for his game this Sunday. But he didn’t. Therefore, we must raise awareness and advocate that the NFL take action against bullying, and that the Miami Dolphins re-focus their team leadership and provide requisite help for the victim and sanctions for the perpetrator.” [The Guardian]
V. PARTING SHOT: TOM JACKSON DISCUSSES MISSING SEXUAL HARASSMENT STORY
“Last year, May 18, about 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon, at a Dolphins’ sponsored golf outing, a female volunteer – and we’ve all been to these kinds of events – was approached by Richie Incognito with a gold club. He molested this young female volunteer inappropriately, as you can, with a golf club. I want our viewers to imagine that – your sister, your daughter. I have.
“He then knocked her glasses off her head and poured water over as a parting shot. She wanted an apology. He would not give her one. Nat Moore, former receiver now with the Dolphins organization, apologized for the organization and promised that something would be done. She didn’t think it would. She filed a police report, which is why we know about it.
“He later was then put on the leadership council after she signed a non-disclosure agreement which indicates or suggests that she got paid to stay quiet about what he did. So let’s fast-forward to this week, we have abuse, we have the cover in the locker room, and in this last instance, he was rewarded.
“I would put to you, as we fast-forward one more week, what is causing the panic in that locker room is that they realize that Jonathan Martin is documenting everything that they did for a year and half to him and they are already in a mode of trying to protect, not only Richie Incognito, but themselves as well.” [More at The Sports Bank]
The sexual harassment story, initially covered up by Miami management, was missing from Jay Glazer’s interview with Incognito, and begs for a larger discussion on the intersection between jock culture and rape culture. As more athletes raise their voices, this list will grow.
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