Just a few words used to describe a 6’5” 320 pound man whose job involves creating collisions with men the size and speed of small compact cars. All words used to describe Dolphins Offensive Tackle Jonathan Martin in the wake of his departure from the team amid allegations that he was bullied by teammates, namely fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
Jonathan Martin is none of those things. If anything, he is tougher than any of the people who allegedly harassed him because he did the hardest thing to do in a situation like this.
He walked away.
One of the most unsettling reactions to this story has been how some people jumped on Martin for his “childish reaction” of quitting on the team. The problem is that the initial action that caused his departure is more childish than anything Martin has done. Whether it’s the Mean Girls cafeteria walkaway or the nicknames, it’s all immaturity masked in macho bravado.
Listening to the Joe Rose Show on 560 WQAM in Miami last Friday, a caller made the point that Martin needs to toughen up. Another caller said that you deal with it like you did in high school, punching someone in the mouth until they leave you alone. Mike Ditka shared a similar sentiment, saying that the best way to deal with a bully is by taking him to “fist city”. But in a culture that glorifies dominance of the weak as a way of vetting their future success, Martin’s actions are a show of tremendous strength and one of the most effective ways of dealing with a bully. It would have been easy for Martin to punch Incognito in the mouth, but that would not have solved anything because Incognito would have just moved on to the next victim.
I teach high school, and I can tell you from personal experience that visiting “fist city” is a one way ticket to suspension town for a 10 day vacation. I have had kids tell me that they were having a problem with somebody and I have taken the appropriate action to try and ensure that nothing happens. In the event that something does escalate like it tends to happen when hormones and bad judgment mix, it is easier to defend the kid that was trying to do the right thing.
And why should the arena of professional sports be any different? I discussed this issue with one of my classes and the responses were more insightful than anything I have read from former athletes, professional journalists and the keyboard gangsters hurling insults at the victim and not the aggressor. The most telling statement was a 15 year old girls succinct analysis of the whole situation. “Just because someone is big doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”
That is what it comes down to. We assign attributes to professional athletes and expectations to how they should act, and more importantly, react. We give them a pass for behavior we wouldn’t tolerate in our lives because the clubhouse and the cubicle are vastly different worlds. The prevailing thought is that hazing is a rite of passage because it has always been. It’s that or my personal favorite, we don’t understand because we are not professional athletes, they are a different breed. But think about this, the caller I mentioned above who said that Martin needed to toughen up because that is life in the NFL is a police officer. In other words, he is a cop who advocates blaming the victim. What more proof do you need that people don’t see “professional athlete” as a job just like anything else.
So apparently Martin has to tolerate disrespect. People mocked that he would get insulted at being called “Big Weirdo” and that he should have thicker skin. But what about now that we know that Incognito referred to him as “half-n*gger” because he is biracial or that he threatened to defecate on him. Seems like this might go beyond the rookie hazing. It’s OK of course, because he is getting paid a lot of money to play a game and he should be tougher than that. Plus, he will get to do it to rookies in 5 years. Pay no mind to the fact that the average NFL career is 3 to 5 years and a good chunk of guys are out of the league in 1 or 2 years.
As a teacher, I am legally obligated to report anything that presents a danger to my students. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin isn’t held to those same standards, but if the reports are true that Martin came to him with his concerns earlier this year and nothing was done until after Martin reached his breaking point this week, that alone could be enough reason to consider cleaning house.
I think that what bothers me the most, and the reason I think a massive organizational change is due, is the fact that when the news broke, the team went on an initial offensive more impressive than anything they have done on the field this year.
The defiance with which they denied a bullying problem coupled with the ease with which they intimated that Martin was going through mental issues is reason enough to get rid of everybody from Ireland on down. They decided to try and discredit Martin, forgetting that his parents are both Harvard Educated attorneys who wouldn’t let that happen without a fight. Then when evidence surfaced that Incognito had sent harassing (and possibly racially charged) text messages and left voice mails for Martin, and only then, was Incognito suspended.
And speaking of defiance, nobody was more defiant than Incognito himself. Instead of letting the process play out while staying as low profile as his last name implies, he defiantly took to Twitter in the 140 character equivalent of Rafael Palmeiro wagging his finger at congress. He demanded his name be CLEARED. He went after ESPN’s Adam Schefter and demanded he stop being slandered. He went so far as to offer the classic “you know where to find me”. Nothing helps dispel the notion that you are a bully like issuing a veiled challenge to a reporter who is 5’8” on a good day. Why not include John Clayton to even out the odds a little bit?
A lot of people, primarily former athletes, are bemoaning the fact that Martin is bucking a system that has been in place since before Emperor Commodus fought inferior gladiators who were using wooden swords. Show any sign deviation from the norm and you have mental issues or are considered weak.
It’s no wonder there has yet to be an active gay athlete in the NFL, MLB or NBA. It is as much cainophobia as it is homophobia.
I don’t know much about Martin’s upbringing other than the fact that his parents are well educated and he went to Stanford. You can surmise that insults about being black and educated is something that Martin has dealt with his whole life, especially on the football field. So when he finally reaches the pinnacle of his profession, he has to continue to endure personal attacks from his teammates?
An offensive line is the one group on a football team that most has to work as a single unit to ensure team success. With all this news coming to light, is it any surprise that the Dolphins unit is on pace to be historically bad?