Let’s start with a thought experiment.
Let’s say that Jonathan Martin had done to Richie Incognito what so many fans, NFL personnel executives and even writers feel he should have.
All for going to the coach, given circumstances, but Jonathan Martin might've been better off just slapping the crap out of Richie Incognito— Mark Kriegel (@MarkKriegel) November 4, 2013
Let’s say that, in the face of the hazing, bullying, racial torments, extortion and everything else that Incognito has allegedly done, that Martin stood up to him and decked him. Manned up, as they say.
Do you think - really think - he’d be universally praised?
Or would he be condemned? Would he be punished, suspended, and possibly released by the Dolphins? Would be be branded a malcontent, a hot-head who couldn’t keep his temper in the face of locker-room talk, a problem youngster who attacked a veteran team leader, a thug, a black guy who attacked a white dude?
How do you think Martin’s manning-up would have been received?
This is the culture we’ve created.
All of us. Sports fans. Sports media members. This is the culture we’ve created. A culture where anything goes in the locker room, where the only allowable responses to alleged vile teasing, hazing and bullying are either stoic silence, passing it along to the next generation, or physical violence. Where asking for help, especially with potentual mental and emotional issues, is considered “weakness” (in the words of one NFL personnel manager).
This is the culture we’ve created by, through the media, fully accepting and perpetuating The Sport Ethic. A core of the sport ethic is to put the team above everything individual. And that’s what this is. It’s accepting be a part of a team, and being part of that team means taking abuse and responding to it by giving it back. That asking for help, especially with potential mental and emotional issues, means you don’t have the necessary strength or courage to make it. That you’re not a real man.
This is the culture we’ve created by relying on current and former players as sources and commentators. The practice is useful for any number of reasons both pragmatic and philosophical reasons. Players are important sources to quote. But the players have accepted The Sport Ethic. It’s part and parcel of being an elite athlete. And it’s natural to relate their own opinion and experiences in locker-room situations. Having grown up in those locker rooms, of course they’re more likely going to question Martin’s lack of action. Incognito’s behavior was not overly deviant - it was in fact, reportedly sanctioned by the team’s coaches as an attempt to toughen Martin up. But by relying on these players as sources and commentators, we as media continue to give a voice to The Sport Ethic. We in the media tacitly sanction The Sport Ethic as the way it is, the way it should be, the only way there is.
There has been some excellentwriting on this story questioning that ethic, questioning whether or not Martin did anything wrong, and in fact was right by not “manning up.” That’s been excellent to see (although it’s telling that, in Mike Vaccaro’s excellent column, the player he spoke with remained anonymous). But it still feels like a minority point of view.
The general sense still seems to be that Martin should have taken matters into his own hands. That a violent response is the only responsible response. That the way to act in a locker room is either to fight back like a man or sit there and take it like a man. That faced with alleged hazing, bullying, tormenting and extortion, the only proper thing he should have done was, in the words of a respected writer, slap the crap out of his tormentor.
This is the sporting culture we’ve created.