LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2013 — Much has been said about Miami Dolphin OL Richie Incognito, who has been suspended indefinitely pending an NFL investigation into the incident involving fellow teammate Jonathan Martin. The alleged accusations involving Incognito, much like the Riley Cooper incident earlier this year have once again fueled the national debate on bullying and racism.
As much as people can all agree that these are two major issues that definitely need to be addressed, the general discussions regarding this specific case could not be less pertinent to the relevant truth.
“Locker room culture will never be understood unless you’ve lived or have been around it,” said a personnel man to Sports Illustrated.
Rookie hazing is where new players are often subjected to harassment, pranks and abuse by the veteran players as a means of initiation. Very similar to the fraternities and sororities of American colleges. Rookies often go along with it as a sign of respect to the senior players, and to keep from alienating themselves from their fellow teammates. Despite the growing controversy, it has generally been accepted as a part of the sports/fraternity culture.
Most outsiders may not understand that hazing has actually nothing to do with either racism or bullying. All rookies are essentially treated the same initially. It is simply a rite of passage, an understanding that all newbies must to start at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole and work their way up. In the corporate world, If you have ever been a new employee, intern or some sort of executive assistant at one point in your career, then you can somewhat relate to this. The respect from your coworkers or teammates will be earned by how well you get along, and ultimately your production, not by your race, religion, education, social standing, or sexual preference.
Now for anyone who has never been a part of a sports locker room environment, there is an unwritten rule or code of silence that you simply do not ever break. NFL players are the modern day gladiators. Aside from a life threatening situation, whatever happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room. Martin, whether he was justified in doing so or not, ultimately violated this code.
Another person told Sports Illustrated, “Guys are going to be guys, if you know what I mean. I’m sure there are some instances of ‘taking things too far,’ but that happens everywhere. You handle it in house — fight, handle it on the field, joke about it, etc — and keep it moving.”
In the locker room, derogatory name-calling and negative comments have been known to be thrown around incessantly. Much like a drill sergeant in boot camp, the insults directed at a particular individual are not to be taken personally. It is a test of mental toughness, and most people who choose to affiliate themselves with these groups or organizations typically understand this.
Tougher players are usually able to take the heat and survive, while softer players generally fold or quit. What seems to be unclear is the actual incident that sparked the complaint by Martin. What has been reported is that it happened after a luncheon involving other players, not just Incognito.
The situation between Martin and Incognito though, stems back to Martin’s rookie year in 2012, as there has reportedly been several threats made by Incognito.
According to NBC Sports, this voicemail was leftfor Martin by Incognito, “Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of [expletive] … I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. [I want to] [expletive] in your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face (laughter). [Expletive] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
This quote may sound absolutely despicable, but hazing like this has been going on for decades, possibly centuries. What people have to understand is that playing football is not like working in your typical office environment. These are more like soldiers preparing for the field of battle, and as cliché as it sounds the unit will be only as strong as the weakest link.
Martin who just so happens to be an introvert, has notoriously been viewed as soft by his peers. The absolute worst quality to have as an offensive lineman.
Was it technically wrong for Incognito to say exactly what he did? Sure, but also try and understand the differences between hazing and racism. Racism is a deep-rooted belief that one race is superior to other races. Racism goes beyond mere derogatory name-calling and insults, it is systemic, and negatively impacts the way a certain individual views or interacts with individuals from another race or group.
Truth be told, if Incognito were truly racist he probably would not be able to stand the sight playing on the same team as Martin, let alone his other non-white teammates. You cannot work with a guy if you do not believe him to be on an equal playing field as you. This is what Jackie Robinson had to endure. It is not nearly the same case as Martin.
In the Sun Sentinel, Chris Perkins writes, “The players love Incognito, they like Martin. Incognito is a better player than Martin. And Incognito is the resident funny guy, the cut-up, the class clown, the crazy one who keeps everyone laughing.” -Chris Perkins, Sun Sentinel
Richie Incognito may be a lot of things in this league, but a bully and/or racist he is not. If we are ever truly to advance as a post racial/bullying society, let us not rush to pass judgment or point the finger at someone for the sake of our own benefit, or perceived self-righteousness.