I usually never weigh in on stuff like this, but since it appears to me that most everyone has missed one of the most obvious issues, (yeah more than the name “Incognito”) let me begin with this: the word incognito means to be in disguise or anonymous to avoid detection. What is the NFLer in question’s disguise? To use the vernacular of the sport that seems to be flying around…he has the smallest stones of all, he is a coward of the greatest degree, he is not a “real man”. Ultimately, there will continue to be a lot of discussion about what made Jonathan Martin leave the Miami Dolphins that day and while everyone gets to have an opinion, most, including me, won’t be privy to the real story. What I want to address here, then, is an issue that is far more subtle and I think plagues us far deeper as a society than in just the National Football League: what would a “real” man do? What sickens me most is all the comments I’ve read that disparage Jonathan Martin for not behaving like a real man, or the filth about the size of his testicles, or the fact that Incognito was bullied as a child, or just as offensive (to me anyway) for him to quit acting like a girl. So, is a real man one who takes the hazing, lets the mindless drive of testosterone rule? Is being a real man being the nastiest lineman on the field? Well, this five foot two red-head who has put the fear in many men by being a girl, calls BULLSHIT!
I say for the umpteenth time that I live in a household of men. My husband played D1 football. My youngest son wants to play college football too. And while I begrudgingly (at times) play the sports mom, I have never tolerated the bullying that goes on in the locker room or the field. My husband and I tell our son to show up, keep your head down and play hard. Do what the coaches tell you to do whether you like it or not. Reject the tendency to be that guy, that sycophant that kisses everyone’s butt to move ahead, or the one that tortures everyone else to hold power over them. I know it can be hard for him when he sees “that guy” get ahead, but in the long haul one’s integrity is what you carry with you, your whole life. The illusion of all that awesomeness fades over time, my husband has plenty of stories about what happened to the “assholes” on his University of Minnesota team. I certainly want my son to carry into his future the knowledge that he worked hard and didn’t get ahead by manipulation or force. I believe you can be a leader in sports without all that other bullshit. Yet, I know it is hard to be strong and successful and not be attacked for being weak if you won’t lower your standards and be just one of the guys.
There is a growing trend today to define men through the eyes of testosterone…a huge package, a visceral tongue, and a big ass gun. Yes, I know stereotypes aside that there are men out there with all those attributes who keep them in check, but I have so many anecdotes to the contrary that I wonder if what kind of men we’re creating would be better suited for the wild west. I think you can have a sport like football, where hazing the younger players doesn’t disfigure their manhood, and leadership knows when enough is enough. That the younger players pay a hefty amount for an expensive meal for their seniors is of no concern to me, because I think they make too much money anyway. But the disparagement over race and violence and just being dirty should never be tolerated…even if Jonathon Martin laughed about it at first because he felt the culture demanded that response. I can tell from experience that, that kind of continued bullying just beats you down over time, until it’s just not possible to take it any more. The fact that there are many great guys in the NFL doesn’t matter to me in the least in this situation, because the environment gets perpetuated some how…silence is complicity in my book.
There are far too many stories of increasing violence of players off the field. Shouldn’t we address them rather than just brush them off as incidents too few to pay attention to? Personally, when I was teaching at the Academy of Holy Angels, a football player threatened me by standing one inch from my face and asking me what I was going to do to him if he didn’t sit down and do his homework like I asked. I said: “I know you may be a physical threat to me”, and then I walked over to the phone and called an administrator who was also his football coach to come down to my room right away. Then, taking all the strength I could muster, I walked back and stood in the exact same spot and said back to him: “but if you touch me, you will have to answer to him”. And as if by divine intervention, Mr Randall Peterson came walking into my room. I will never forget that day. That moment is still a source of hope for me because I knew that Mr Peterson had my back, that he would never tolerate that kind of behavior from one of his players. And while I completely understand that my situation and Jonathon Martin’s are not the same, I do have to ask these questions: “Who was there to watch his back?”; What kind of leadership exists that could defend Incognito’s behavior over Martin’s?” Incognito may not be the anti-christ. He may actually have some good qualities. But it will never excuse that kind of bullying, or make him a real man.