Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 13:02
The NFL was meant for Richie Incognito. It protects him. The NFL was not meant for Jonathan Martin. It does not protect him.
Last Friday, Ted Wells released a 144-page report detailing Incognito’s harassment of Martin over the last two years with the Miami Dolphins.
The report finds that Incognito relentlessly bullied Martin with racial taunts, calling him a “half-n----- piece of s---,” a “liberal mulatto b----” and a “stinky Pakistani.” He physically assaulted Martin at a Christmas party. He made sexually explicit jokes about Martin’s sister. As king of the team’s “kangaroo court,” he fined Martin $10,000 for not attending an offensive line trip to Las Vegas.
Throughout Wells’ report, Incognito comes across as ignorant and stupid. But his bullying crushed Martin. In a text message sent to his mother last April, Martin reportedly wrote: “I figured out a major source of my anxiety. I’m a pushover, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me.”
Avoids confrontation? Wants people to like him? He sounds almost... human?
Some columnists have speculated that Wells’ report could forever change NFL locker room culture. I can’t think of a single reason it would. The report, though disturbing, doesn’t teach us much we didn’t already know. We learn that Incognito is a horrible person. We learn that awful things go on in NFL locker rooms.
We can learn more by looking at the upshot of the incident. Martin, the victim, is out of football. After leaving the team last October, he immediately checked himself into a mental health facility. His teammates, following the same protocol that told Martin not to speak ill of his comrades, have not said a word on his behalf.
Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner — who reportedly took part in the taunting of an unnamed player for his perceived homosexuality — allegedly sent Martin the following text message last November: “Richie incognito is getting hammered on national TV. This is not right. You could put an end to all the rumors with a simple statement. DO THE RIGHT THING. NOW.” The Dolphins fired Turner yesterday in an attempt to save face. But if not for a massive investigation, he’d still have his job.
Meanwhile, the perpetrator — the racist, homophobic, violent Incognito — will likely serve a several-game suspension and get back to work. The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero recently suggested he could make $3 to $4 million on a one-year deal. Numerous teammates and NFL players have come to his defense.
While Wells’ report shows us what goes on inside the locker room, it won’t actually change what goes on inside the locker room. It won’t change who the NFL does and does not protect.
Chris Kluwe, punter and gay rights activist, is out of a job. Mike Priefer, the Vikings’ special teams coordinator who allegedly told Kluwe he’d “[burn] in hell with the gays,” is on the Vikings’ staff for next season.
What would Priefer or Incognito say and do to Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end who may soon become the league’s first openly gay player?
“The good news, hopefully,” wrote Ashley Fox of ESPN.com, “is that Wells’ report should serve notice ... that bullying, taunting and hazing are not appropriate locker room behaviors.”
But in a “no snitching” environment, the players are often the only ones who really know what’s going on — especially if the harassment arrives via text message.
And while the Incognito case is extreme, bullying undoubtedly occurs in all 32 NFL locker rooms. When it gets bad, who is there for the victims?
Aaron Leibowitz is a senior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.