In the weeks that have passed since Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito bullied teammate Jonathan Martin into leaving the team because of hazing and extortion, an interesting response has occurred in which a growing number of football players – including Dolphin players – have defended Incognito and referred to “football culture” as making Incognito’s action “OK.” Basically the general thought here is that “boys will be boys,” and that “whatever happens in the locker room should stay in the locker room.” In my opinion both of these excuses are poor, and should be antiquated ways of thinking as they apply to both sports and general male behaviors.
Is Jonathan Martin any “less of a man” because he didn’t feel like putting up with bullying?
Is Richie Incognito any “more of a man” because he had a vulnerable teammate he could pick on?
I think you know the answers to both questions.
We have a history of terrible American experiences to glean over that illustrate the dangers of keeping an “old school,” narrow minded way of thinking. Blacks were discriminated in this country for hundreds of years, as were women — fortunately, more fair, empathic, and logical minds came around to making fair and long overdue adjustments for both groups. In recent years, gay people have finally been appreciated and treated more fairly as evidenced by increasingly more states allowing for gay marriage. The list goes on and on with countless examples of how things were once a certain way, only to be later corrected through critical thought and fairness to people – especially those who were once victims.
Changing “the code”
I have been around sports a long time and have worked with athletes from probably every sport under the sun. I am very well aware of the “code” that exists as it applies to hazing athletes, as well as the silence that is expected from those in the locker room who know things. This is a dangerous way of thinking and needs to stop. Athletes, including Jonathan Martin, should not be looked at as “sissies” simply because they are not down with hazing and bullying, and similarly, athletes like Incognito should not be protected simply because an old school locker room code exists.
Fortunately, in the vast number of college and professional sport settings when hazing and bullying occurs it usually results in nothing more than awkward moments and some laughs along the way. This doesn’t make it right, but it seems as though most adults cope with the stress and humiliation as well as they can, often expecting it would eventually happen and preparing for the consequences. This isn’t always true in youth sports though, and in far too many cases young athletes struggle with bullying and hazing and don’t always cope as well as adults.
We need to do away with bullying and hazing, and we need to lift the curtain on the old school “what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room” when it comes to the potential dangers victims of bullying and hazing experience. Enough with accepting racial slurs as OK in locker rooms, and enough with tactics that are designed to humiliate people sometimes to the point of suicide. We have a history of righting wrong things, and sports can begin to do the same — it won’t make sports any less exciting, but it will make the environment one safer for all those involved.