This week the Miami Dolphins suspended guard Richie Incognito indefinitely, although most believe that he will never play for the Dolphins again. Incognito was the ringleader of a harassment barrage against fellow teammate, Jonathan Martin, which resulted in Martin leaving the team in the middle of the season. This suspension was an act that was a long time coming and is something that Incognito fully deserves.
The reports of foul play and bad behavior have been documented since 2002 when he was suspended by the University of Nebraska football program and dismissed a year later by the Oregon football program where he transferred. In 2009 he was voted the “Dirtiest Player in the NFL”, the same year he was released from the Rams for his bad behavior. Since then, there have been incidents where other players have fought back against him on the field (where he was known to eye-gouge, pinch and generally just be the player that everyone hates) which all leads up to his suspension, and hopefully release, from the Dolphins which opened up the years of bullying and unacceptable behavior from this player.
The biggest question that should have been asked throughout this concerning history is “Why was Richie Incognito playing football for this long?”
I believe the answer is that we, as a society, still have this soft spot for athletes. Really, any person who has some talent and is quasi famous. But athletes still get this aura of special treatment that gets them out of trouble when they need to be punished instead of ass-kissed. The “boys will be boys” attitude is causing more harm than good and sets a horrible precedent for those who want to raise honest, respectable men in a world where they see examples of “being a man” consist of threats and violence toward each other. There are many commentators throughout the sports world stating that is was just horseplay and trying to sweep it under the rug by saying that Martin should have “been a man” and dealt with the issue. How? By getting into a physical altercation and possibly costing himself his own job? Most of us with jobs have to sign contracts and go to harassment seminars stating that the our employer can fire us if we ever make another co-worker uncomfortable or give them an unsafe work environment. Why is that different in the NFL? Jonathan Martin has a right to come to work and not deal with racist remarks or threats of violence. In any other workplace, that would be a fire-able offense. This is not rookie hazing where you make them carry your pads or get you drinks. This is bullying and harassment and it has no place in an organization as large as the NFL.
We teach our children that when they are dealing with a bully, they need to walk away from the situation and not escalate. That is exactly what Jonathan Martin did. He didn’t come to work with a gun and turn the situation into a tragedy; he did the mature, adult thing and walked away and he’s being ripped apart for it. So walking away from a problem to let cooler heads prevail is great for school age children but for grown men the standard is to turn to violence to handle a problem and “be a man”? Can we be any more hypocritical as a society? This is a horrible lesson for the young people who watch these men and consider them idols. Lets take the NFL and the million dollar contracts out of the picture and say this scenario happened between two boys on a high school football team? Would people still be saying “boys will be boys” if one teammate left another a racially charged voicemail with a death threat and the player walked away instead of escalating the situation?
This whole situation opens up many conversations, including asking why behavior we push on our children isn’t upheld as adults and also to reexamine what really makes you a man in our society. I hope this ordeal ends with Richie Incognito getting a long overdue firing and Jonathan Martin playing for a team that respects his right to go to work and feel safe.
Do you agree? What outcome would you like to see come out of this?