Sports department for the student run radio station 90.3 WRST at UW-Oshkosh
By: Alexander Crowe
Station Manager at WRST-FM Oshkosh
“You can’t show that you’re hurt, you can’t show any pain.”
That, among other things, is what Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, had to say this week about the ongoing investigation into the Miami Dolphins locker room. Most people with television or internet access are all too familiar with the situation currently unfolding down in Miami. For those who aren’t familiar, let’s start with what we know.
We know that about a month ago, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins team facilities, for reasons that were undisclosed. Shortly after that, he checked himself into a hospital located in South Florida to be treated for “emotional distress.” Then, the media firestorm started coming.
Reports began to fly about what was going on inside the locker room walls down in Miami, Florida. Nobody could quite figure out what was happening, because nothing like this had ever happened before. Never before was a team’s locker room so opened up to the media. Never before had ESPN been chasing down 300 pound offensive linemen to ask them about their feelings. Never before had this type of situation thrust itself upon the billion dollar industry that is the NFL, and never before had a locker room been forced to take sides and tell the media everything that was taking place on the inside.
Then, once the media circus had already began, a new name surfaced in the report: Richie Incognito. Incognito was reported to have been the main culprit of the “bullying” that Martin suffered from. He responded on Twitter by taking shots at every major network airing an NFL show that weekend (FOX, CBS, and ESPN) and said that he wanted his “name cleared”. Then, Adam Schefter of ESPN obtained a copy of a voicemail that Incognito left for Martin on his cell phone. That voicemail, the one that every person in the NFL has read the transcript of by now, said things that Incognito never thought would see the light of day. It had insults, threats, and racially charged slurs tossed at Martin, and Incognito was subsequently suspended from playing with the Miami Dolphins.
That’s when the story started to get really out of control. Every media outlet in the country wanted to get in on the action, so they began flooding the locker room in Miami asking Dolphins players who was right and who was wrong. They asked if head coach Joe Philbin was to blame, or was it GM Jeff Ireland? The response by Dolphins players spoke volumes about what was really going on down in Miami.
The players voiced their overwhelming support not for Jonathan Martin, but for Incognito. They said that he had been portrayed unfairly in the media, and that he never targeted Martin one way or another. Reports surfaced that coach Philbin had asked Incognito to “toughen up” Martin, and again more questions than answers arose.
Finally, this past Sunday, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports got an exclusive interview with Incognito. While the entire world watched and waited for a bombshell to be dropped on them (it never was), it seemed obvious that the questions being asked were not the right ones.
This story has nothing to do with two offensive linemen and who said what to who. It has nothing to do with Miami, or the culture that they preach inside the walls of their facility. It has everything to do with the NFL as a whole, and the culture that is preached day in and day out to every man that steps onto an NFL field.
Today, former Miami Dolphins offensive limeman Lydon Murtha, who played with both Martin and Incognito, wrote a piece for mmqb.si.com, or the Monday Morning Quarterback. He wrote all about both players, the culture of the locker room, and how Incognito was being used as a scapegoat and poster-child for the unfair and unkind ways of the NFL locker room. If you have not read it, I recommend that you do at once. The link can be found here.
Murtha starts off the article with the phrase “I don’t have a dog in this fight. I want that to be very clear.” He goes on to say that from the moment Jonathan Martin was drafted by the Dolphins in April of 2012, Martin seemed like he never wanted to be a part of the Dolphins. He claimed that Martin was always asked to join in activities the offensive line did together, and Martin always refused. He also said that Incognito was the leader of the team, always standing by Martin’s side when he failed and would always say There’s always tomorrow.
Murtha went on to say that as the leader of the line, the coaches came to Incognito and asked him to “bring (Martin) out of his shell. Figure him out a little bit.”
That right there is where the problem with the NFL culture lies.
Richie Incognito is a bully. He is a mean person, who clearly has no respect for anyone other than himself. That being said, there is absolutely no reason that he should be suspended from the NFL right now.
Dealing with bullies is never fun. Bullies are rude, insensitive people who think about themselves only, and make life hard for others. Last time I checked, though, those kinds of attitudes were all over the NFL and nobody suspended or made accusations about any player other than Incognito. The problem is not that Richie Incognito was a bully, the problem is that bullies are so common in the NFL that he was doing no worse than any other bully on any other team, and trust me when I say that they’re there.
It was Brandon Marshall who brought this to light. In a press conference this week, Marshall had this to say about the situation currently surrounding his former team (via Deadspin):
“Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off. You’ll be OK. Don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions. And it’s that times 100 with football players. You can’t show that you’re hurt, you can’t show any pain. So for a guy to come into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, that’s a problem. That’s what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that’s what we have to change.”
Marshall is absolutely right. Football players, for better or worse, are taught to handle pain and emotions with a grain of salt. Offensive linemen are supposed to be the hardest hitting and most dedicated players on the field, because every second of every game they’re battling down in the trenches. Marshall went on to say:
“What’s going on in Miami goes on in every locker room. But it’s time for us to start talking. Maybe have some group sessions where guys sit down and maybe talk about what’s going on off the field or what’s going on in the building and not mask everything. Because the longer it goes untreated, the worse it gets.”
He is absolutely right.
The questions being asked should not be whether or not Richie Incognito is a bully, or whether or not he will play again in the NFL. The questions being asked should revolve around the culture of the league as a whole, and why a rookie needs to pay $10,000 for a meal just so he doesn’t get harassed the rest of his career by his teammates. The exact same questions arose this off-season when NFL executives were asking players in the draft whether or not they were gay, because the culture of an NFL locker room wouldn’t be accepting to an openly gay person. Enough is enough.
Richie Incognito will play football again. So will Jonathan Martin. Both, however, will never play again as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Incognito can’t go back as a PR move for the Dolphins, and Martin – regardless of the reason – abandoned his teammates and brought the media into the locker room, something that is of the highest of crimes in the NFL. Both players will eventually make their way back into the league and finish their playing days on different teams.
The question remains, though, as to what will come of this situation and the NFL investigation that spawned because of it. Hopefully, more players will think about what it means to be “tough” in professional football. Jonathan Martin is not the only player in the league that feels like this about his teammates, he’s just the first one to handle it like this. Both Martin and Incognito will soon fade out of the spotlight and back into their respective roles with respective teams playing professional football. The question is, will the league they return to be the same one they left a few weeks ago?