NGSC Sports

Football Fabulosa – Power Trips and Abuse Have No Place in NFL

This week’s hot topics once again centers around words and how powerful an impact power trips and abuse can have regardless of your intentions. It’s no coincidence this week’s word brouhaha also revolves around a racial slur. Perhaps it’s ironic that it does since I just got through writing about how the NFL officially sanctions one particular racial slur by allowing a professional football team to name itself after one. Then comes the Richie Incognito story and we are once again faced with a specious debate over where using a racial slur can be acceptable when your intentions are good. Here’s a clue: no it’s not.

Just to recap, Richie Incognito, long time NFL douche-bag and erstwhile current, at least for now, Miami Dolphin offensive enforcer has been accused of harassing his teammate Jonathan Martin, also an offensive lineman, and sending him racially charged and threatening text messages. As a result of the abuse, Martin ultimately left the team and is seeking treatment and counseling for emotional issues. In response to the allegations, the Miami Dolphins indefinitely suspended Incognito while an investigation was launched. The team store stopped selling his jerseys on their official website. All of which seems largely hypocritical since it seems clear the team at least knew what was going on and maybe even encouraged it.

Following a swell of public outrage, the Miami Dolphins locker room, which appears to have been involved in the abuse or at least complicit with silence and head in the sand tactics, decided to come out in full support of Incognito saying he isn’t racist and is in fact an “honorary black man.” Yes that really is an official defense of Incognito calling Martin racial slurs and using racial slurs toward other teammates. Which leads me to my next question. How in fact does one become an “honorary black man?” I’m guessing there is a test involved and it goes a little something like this:

Q: so hey we have this little group it’s called “being a black man” and it involves repeatedly dropping the N word, sometimes when you are drunk in a bar, and sometimes when you are trying to toughen up a teammate. So, you in?

A: N**** I’m in!

Q: Hold up brother you aren’t in yet I haven’t given you your card. There’s another test you have to pass. It also involves forcing your younger less tough teammates into paying for lot of cool trips, dinners and whatnot even when they don’t want to. Yeah it’s extortion but we play football! So, you in?

A: Free trips to Vegas paid for by an emotionally vulnerable young man I can pretend to befriend all in the name of brotherhood and codes and stuff? I’m in!

Q: Cool, here’s your card. Be sure to flash it to other brothers when you walk into a bar and start slinging around the N word. Otherwise, they might get upset or something.

A: Why would they get upset? Bro, I’m one of you!

Current as well as former Dolphins have also defended what is going on here by pointing out that these dinners and trips that younger players are forced to pay have long gone on and that they didn’t originate with Incognito and other Dolphins players. This only reinforces how the abuse is  institutionalized and why in large part no player has ever really come forward to expose the abuse. The pattern here is unmistakable and it’s a pattern that is well known to those familiar with abusive relationships.

The first step an abuser takes in reeling in it’s victim is isolation and one former Dolphin went on record explaining how Incognito and the Dolphins locker room worked to try and reel Martin in. You see Martin wasn’t part of the group he didn’t want to participate in paying for these free trips and they made him pay for it in the way abusers do. They sent their enforcer Incognito under the auspices of “befriending” Martin and once successful began a campaign designed to wear down his defenses and program him to accept the abuse. It’s a classic tale filled with all the traditional warning signs.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t begin or end with Richie Incognito who has long held a reputation as a bully. No one is really shocked that he would be involved in something like this since he has long been known as the NFL”s dirtiest player, a reputation mind you that is well deserved. No, the story continues on well past Incognito and the abusive nature of the Dolphins locker room into an area that is also well known in abusive environments and this victim blaming. Any notion that Martin did the wrong thing by outing this abuse is outrageous. You are part of the problem.

You see there are stories coming out about how Martin tolerated the abuse he endured without appearing to be suffering on the surface. This is a pattern in abusive relationships that repeats itself over and over. The abused is programmed to believe the problem is within and not without and often goes out of the way to hide what is going on from others. Whether it is fear or other emotions the abused will often go to great lengths to try and please the abuser. Oftentimes it requires breaking free in order to understand the depths of the abuse.

The notion that this kind of abuse should be sanctioned because this is football or sports or really any other activity and thus free from the bounds of common decency is beyond ludicrous. In particular, any argument that this is the NFL, football and a sanctified environment where abusive treatment is not only to be tolerated but encouraged is so fundamentally flawed as to be outrageous. The NFL isn’t some bastion of holiness that should get a free pass from creating this type of abusive environment where players are called racial slurs, threatened and forced to provide benefits to their abusers.

I love football as much as anyway but let’s be clear about what it is. It’s a game where men chase a ball. It’s entertainment for the masses. To be sure it’s highly lucrative but it’s not a special environment and shouldn’t get a pass from the requirement that a work environment must be free from abuse and harassment. You often hear football players talk about respect but what is clear in this story is how respect became a commodity to be bought and sold by a trip to Vegas.

As this excellent Grantland piece points out, even the marines have  policies against hazing and abuse. No one should feel unsafe in their work environment. No one should have to wonder when they will show up to work and be extorted for another trip. Seriously, why must grown men force someone else to pay for their entertainment whether it be food or a nice fun trip to Vegas. This isn’t about respect it’s about a power trip gone wrong and how one young man tried to escape and was overwhelmingly vilified for it.

I must note that many players I respect have come out against what happened in Miami. As London Fletcher pointed out, there was no one in the locker room to intervene. Tennessee Titans safeties George Wilson and Bernard Pollard spoke out against what happened in Miami. Finally, Brandon Marshall offered a very unique and thoughtful look at the issue and how the culture of the NFL should change.

Hopefully Martin coming forward with his story will lead to some changes in how abuse and harassment is addressed in the NFL work environment. Treating others with dignity and respect isn’t optional nor is it a commodity to be bought and sold. It’s a basic human right to which everyone is entitled even guys who don’t fit in with the group like Jonathan Martin.

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