Allegations that a pro football player who quit his team was a victim of bullying have ignited a broader discussion of the role of violence in American society.
It’s a good conversation to have, especially as it pertains to hundreds of urban neighborhoods where too many children grow up being taught to return violence with violence, only to end up becoming homicide statistics.
Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin left the team last week, reportedly to get counseling for emotional issues. Martin’s representatives said he had been continually harassed by Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who typically played beside him.
Incognito was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins for allegedly sending Martin text messages that questioned his sexual orientation and called him derogatory names. An April voice message called Martin, who is black, a “half-n- piece of s-” and ended with “I’ll kill you.”
The episode has sports analysts pondering whether pro football has room for apparently meek individuals like Martin, who studied classical literature at Stanford. “He always wanted to make everybody happy and make friends and not be a problem,” said Martin’s high school coach, Vic Eumont.
Conversely, Incognito seems to fit the prototype of a bully. The New Jersey native was kicked off his college team, Nebraska, after repeated violations of team policy. As a pro, he was once voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers. Richie Incognito Sr. says he always told his son, “You don’t take no s- from anyone.”
That attitude can be an attribute on the gridiron. In fact, a number of NFL players seemed more bothered by Martin’s reporting of Incognito’s alleged behavior than by the behavior itself. “I think he was just being Richie,” said Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace. Some suggested that Martin could have ended any harassment by smacking Incognito.
Whether Martin should have hit Incognito was the subject of a heated debate Wednesday between retired Philadelphia Eagles lineman Mike Golic, who cohosts the “Mike & Mike” radio show, and fellow ESPN broadcaster Dan Le Batard. As Le Batard condemned violence, Golic retorted jokingly, “Obviously you’ve never done anything manly in your life.” The joke fell flat.
Martin’s alleged mistreatment may be related to NFL veterans’ routine hazing of rookies, which includes making them pay for lavish meals costing thousands of dollars. But no one has explained why Martin, a second-year pro, would still be a target.
One theory offered on the radio show is that Dolphins coaches may have tolerated the hazing in an effort to toughen up the lineman — much as Col. Nathan R. Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, ordered a “Code Red” to toughen up a Marine in “A Few Good Men.”
The fictional Marine ended up dead, as do too many real people who, unlike most NFL players, can’t leave their aggression on the field. Some were bullies; others were bullied and decided that violence must be met with violence. When that happens, it’s hard to find winners.
The NFL is investigating what happened to Martin. Maybe it can discover remedies to overly aggressive behavior that can be applied beyond football.