If you haven’t read up on the Miami Dolphins’ ongoing bullying saga between Richie Incognito, a player with a history of disciplinary and legal problems, and Jonathan Martin, by all accounts a softspoken, friendly, and nice player who was recently admitted to the hospital on account of emotional distress, there’s plenty of material out there for you to catch up on. Here’s a recent Times article, with plenty of others: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/sports/football/for-the-nfl-a-question-of-hazing-or-abuse.html?_r=0
I was expecting Grantland to address the topic, and here it is, cautiously dissected by one of its most insightful writers, Andrew Sharp: http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/81380/the-miami-dolphins-and-everything-that-will-never-make-sense
This story, which has quickly gone beyond the boundaries of sports and become a national issue, reinforced several increasingly obvious – and uncomfortable – observations about the media and its place in our lives.
First, it was hilariously easy to typecast the people involved in this. Incognito had a previous history of aggressive and perhaps downright dirty and despicable behavior – as well as, along the lines of the popular redemption narratives, attempts to change this, since he has demonstrably “improved” since college. The Times article above actually did a nice job of placing Incognito’s behavior within SOME context…hazing is common in sports and fraternities, and Incognito has been framed as the stereotypical bully without a leash. Martin was the gentle giant, reserved and well spoken, not a part of this crude “macho culture”.
But here’s the bigger problem, and Sharp does a good job of going into it while remaining neutral in tone: there still isn’t enough context.
Just step away for a moment and consider all the things you’ve written or said in gchat messages, or in person to the closest people you know. I’m willing to bet that all of you have said things that you’d never want to be public, and that would paint you in a terrible light if taken in conjunction with other events in your life. I’m not making some point in favor of privacy here…I am saying that you writing or expressing those thoughts and ideas is not only exclusive to the people you trust enough to share them with, but would be taken in a horribly negative way if viewed in a neutral light. The media’s demands on athletes and its influence on their perceptions – both individually and as a group entity, for they are often simply portrayed as supremely blessed, lucky, and spoiled people who were handed their successes, salaries, and adulation on a platter, though anyone who has played sports or tried to really compete in ANYTHING should immediately recognize the absurdity of this idea – make it excessively easy to take any set of comments, behaviors, or events, apply the “neutral” filter to them, and make them seem like terrible people if they don’t live up to some squeaky clean, objectively PC and acceptable standard. It’s bias and spin despite apparent objectivity.
So every time you rail about Richie Incognito and the teammates who defended him, consider the worst things you’ve ever said to friends or family. Because for family especially, I bet far worse and hurtful things have been flung about than what he said, and probably between friends too. I’m not saying Richie Incognito was right to do and say what he did, but it’s also incredibly unfair and shallow to typecast him based on his steadily “improving” past, and without grasping the kinds of relationships and standards of behavior within professional locker rooms, ones that most of us will never truly know or understand. Just like how outsiders will likely never just “get” the bonds between you and your family and friends.