The Mess in Miami: Can We Learn From It?

Posted: 5th November 2013 by DavidBurnett in NFL
Tags: , ,

I’ve spent the last several days consumed by reports, and commentaries about the ugly actions that intimidated and served to disrespect and dishonor Jonathan Martin, the Miami Dolphins lineman who last week said he had had enough and walked away from his team and teammates.

Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin

Several things strike me about this. The first is the obvious: what possessed Richie Incognito to target Martin in this way, with nasty, racially tinged emails and text messages and perhaps other actions that have yet to be reported?  What kind of human being says and does this to another?  This could not have been part of the dubious tradition of rookie hazing, since Martin was no longer a rookie. And why Martin? To this point there is no evidence that Incognito was treating other teammates this way.  With justification the Dolphins have suspended Incognito indefinitely, and the NFL is now investigating this incident with the potential that other penalties could be levied.

Just as puzzling: why didn’t other Dolphins players intervene?  They had to know something was wrong, especially Martin’s fellow offensive linemen.  Did they feel it was not their place to take sides? Did they also see this as part of the NFL experience and that Martin would and should find a way to handle this on his own?  Further none of what has come out over the last few days explains why a number of Martin’s teammates participated in the fateful lunchroom stunt that finally broke Martin’s spirit and caused him to leave the team.

Richie Incognito

Richie Incognito

Underlying all of this is the unspoken code of conduct and silence that governs many team sports and player interactions. This code condones rookie hazing, pranks, mild financial coercion and other actions.  Most of which falls under the questionable rubric of team building and bonding.

But clearly whatever bond there was between Martin and Incognito and perhaps other teammates is broken, more than likely irretrievably. It would not be surprising if both players never play another down for Miami.  Also clear is that while today we focus specifically on the nasty rift in Miami, in a larger sense, this isn’t just a Dolphins’ problem, its a bad human being problem.

Sadly, I hear and read remarks from too many who wonder why Martin didn’t literally fight back or at least confront Incognito. What I say to that is, we are not inside Martin’s head and soul.  We have no idea the totality of what he experienced from Incognito and others.  Based on what we know, he was victimized, bullied and unprotected, plain and simple.

No one deserves this.  Even a man as large as Jonathan Martin.  But as I write this, and it is still early, there are things that remain very unsettling, like Incognito’s indiscriminate use of the N-word toward Martin which has not been roundly condemned by Dolphins players, especially Martin’s African-American teammates.

This is a messy, ugly and fluid situation, but it is also one that actually shines the light  on bad and shameful behavior generally, which all of us can and should learn from.

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