Over the course of the past week, a lot has been broken about the news surrounding Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. A Stanford graduate, Martin had been the subject of bullying by other Miami teammates. At the center was noted shithead Richie Incognito, whom the Dolphins suspended. Who got the respect of their teammates?
Unfortunately, it was Incognito. The offensive guard has been the subject of much scorn over his entire playing career. Incognito still playing on an NFL team is amazing, when you consider the reputation he had earned. Dolphins players didn’t seem to mind, calling the guy the “ultimate teammate”. From the outside looking in, everyone with a clear mind though that was absolutely bonkers. Inside a locker room, it’s much different.
You see, an NFL locker room is supposed to be filled with “men playing a men’s game” or some other sort of trite braggadocio. Now, I would think that calling a person almost ten years younger than you and assaulting them with racist remarks would be incredibly childish. Not according to the Miami front office, which said that Martin should have faced Incognito “man to man” by throwing some haymakers. As if that would have worked. No, we would have been told about trouble brewing in the Dolphins’ locker room or practice field thanks to some fisticuffs. Due in part to Martin doing the responsible thing and removing himself from a confrontation, we now have this discussion.
The discussion has been split in to two incredibly distinct sides. On one side, you have great pieces by the likes of Brian Phillips and David J. Roth on football’s outdated culture of masculinity, on the other you have players like Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill saying the Martin and Incognito were the “best of friends“. I am not here to say the truth is in the middle. That’s garbage.
Writers like Roth and Phillips and players like Martin’s teammate at Stanford, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. Thursday night, the Cardinal won an impressive victory over number three Oregon thanks to dominant play along both lines of scrimmage. Baldwin knows this is the Stanford way, and scoffs at you calling it soft, saying (via CBSSports) “if you don’t believe me, ask any of the PAC-12 teams that played Stanford.. how physical and how NFL-ready the players are,” in defense of his alma mater. Baldwin appears to be a good guy, and he and other younger players may be changing the culture of football.
Football’s culture, especially at the monolithic NFL level, needs to be changed. Player reactions to the entire Martin incident still show the league to be misogynistic and homophobic, somehow transposing mental illness to the can-you-believe-it worse qualities of being a woman, or even worse, gay. Granted, I believe that a shift in attitudes is happening, especially with younger players. The problem is that they are still taking the brunt of veteran’s “old school” philosophies, which have been phased out in the real world some time ago.
Personally, this story hits me in too many damn places. I’ve dealt with my own mental health and its ramifications since I was in middle school. Around the same time, I was developing my Miami Dolphins fandom. Growing up and becoming more progressive as the days passed, I had (and still have) trouble separating the person from the performance. I am aware that many football players are terrible people, trained only to play a game. A lot of them are fully developed, but if they let it show that they have hobbies like “literature”, they may be branded as soft.
Ricky Williams was the weirdest duded the Dolphins employed during my fandom. He famously gave interviews with his helmet on during his New Orleans Saints days, which seemed to the media a quirk at best. He would then retire from football (the first time) on the eve I decided to move back to Virginia in high school. I identified with him, a depressed dude who had no idea quite what to do with life. I would eventually go on to college, and try to get things straightened out. Williams would find his way to the Canadian Football League and then back to the Dolphins, were he and Ronnie Brown would take over the league with the Wildcat (for a year at least). The tailback did have his fair share of weed issues, but he never did anything crazy. For a while there, the NFL actually had someone entertaining off the field.
Jonathan Martin’s story comes at a marked new era in Dolphins football. Second year into a new coaching staff, new uniforms, better than mediocre. Yet, the coaching staff is awful from a human perspective, reportedly asking Richie Incognito to “toughen up” Martin. Players have come to the defense of Incognito despite ridiculously damning evidence that paints him as a major league ass. What am I supposed to do when the Dolphins take on the Buccaneers on Monday?
I want to root for the Dolphins. They’re the first football team I really followed, most of their team’s makeup is no better than another’s, and hell, it’s just a game. I don’t think every player in the locker room is with Incognito. If they are against him, and there are probably some, they aren’t going to speak out. If they do, they’re likely to be scrutinized, at least in private from their teammates. Growing up for NFL players is hard to do.