For the whatever installment of this fireside chat between Champ and I, we decided to tackle (get it? Tackle?) the NFL and its latest PR problem…bullying. Allons-y.
Panama Jackson: The latest news out of the NFL is that the state of Florida is having the worst year ever. Tampa Bay sucks ass. Jacksonville is such a sh*tty place to be an NFL team I hear that Des Moines is in the running for the new location for the team (I just made that up). Then comes the Miami Dolphins and a fellow who represents a sport where the manliest of men do battle weekly basically took a leave of absence because he was allegedly being bullied. By a man named Richie Incognito no less.
For those not in the know, 2nd year player Jonathon Martin’s feelings were hurt by Incognito’s rampant use of bad words and voicemails where he was referred to by the nword and other words that aren’t very nice. You know, it sounds like I’m making light of Martin’s feelings here. And to be fair, to qoute Quincy from Love and Basketball “Some things should never f*cking happen…” but they do. And a lot. Football players “bullying” one another is kind of part of the gig. Just like in any organization. There’s levels to this sh*t. Some of which involves being berated. And it’s not right, but its okay, we’re going to make it anyway.
I think bullying is wrong. I also think that you try to handle things in house. He really went to tell on him. Or something. Champ, break it down for me and tell me whats really hood with the situation here? How do you feel about the story that’s come out?
Champ: Florida is having the worst NFL year ever. It’s also having its best college football year in over a decade, and the NBA champs reside there. I guess this would be a paradox.
So, the fact that this Jonathan Martin story is a story is crazy. Not crazy in that it shouldn’t have been a story. But crazy in that it hasn’t been a story more often. Because, while football is, for lack of a better term, “unique” (more on that later), this type of stuff happens with competitive sports more often than we want to admit. Does it happen in every locker room? No. But is the Dolphins’ locker room the only place where stuff like this is happening? Hell no.
If you happen to see or go through it while you’re playing though, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. For all of its benefits, sports does have a way of making you normalize inconspicuously abnormal behavior.
For instance, I was called a “scared shitless cunt” by a coach once. At halftime of a game we were winning by 25. I was 12. I also helped stuff a kid into a ball rack, lock it, and pour 10 bags of ice on him. I was 17. He might have been 13. His offense? I was working a basketball camp, he was a kid at the camp, he was being a smart-aleck, and we (the rest of my teammates) thought this would be an appropriate punishment. I felt kinda bad when he started crying, but not bad enough to stop us from rolling him around in one of the locker rooms so the rest of the kids could laugh at him.
None of this—the scared shitless cunt, the kid in the ball rack—seemed like a big deal when it was happening.
Anyway, I’m bringing this all up because I do think there’s a ton of hypocrisy and self-righteous outrage going on right now in response to this bullying story. I totally get why people who aren’t football fans are appalled by some of this stuff. I’m a football fan and I’m appalled.
But—for people who are fans of the sport—what the fuck do you think is going to happen when you put a bunch of hyper-aggressive and hyper-athletic young men together and pay them millions of dollars to knock each others heads off for 16 straight weeks?
If anything, this story just provides another example of the cognitive dissonance you need to exhibit to be an NFL fan. I mean, do you really have a right to be outraged about the bullying and the brain injuries and the domestic violence and the suicides and the murder-suicides and everything else if you’re still happily supporting the product every Sunday?
PJ: I honestly never knew what the term cognitive dissonance was until I started hearing about it because of the NFL. But you’re right. These cats are super aggressive guys whose entire livelihood involves being de facto crash test dummies. I think that’s why I’m so amazed at a man being in his feelings in the locker room about something like this. I’ve definitely been called worse. And that happened at a summer camp where the camp counselor made a bunch of us eat ants. I’m pretty sure that’s child abuse today.
What I find the most interesting, and you’ve alluded to this, is how many sports commentators are making it seem like they truly think this is outrageous. These cats have been in locker rooms and likely participated in the activities and now want to be outraged? Or at least pretend to be outraged? I just don’t know if we can call anything bullying that happens in a sport that involves full contact at very high rates of speed…on purpose. Sure, your wife sleeping with your best man or quarterback is cause for being in your feelings. But another football player basically calling you a p*ssy daily seems a bit extra. Again, I’m not him. Maybe he’s just a gentle soul – akin to Ricky Williams – whose physical gifts and talents (pause) have landed him where he is, but this also can’t be the first time somebody dug in at him.
You bring up another good point. How do we watch the product given all these issues? Well, we realize nothing’s going to change. And there’s so much money involved it doesn’t seem real anyway. We feel like these guys are being paid insane amounts of money to do something we’d all give our right nuts to do while we’re all making peanuts just to get by. I knwo bullying is a big issue in America. Kids are being affected by it daily in ways that are causing real serious consequences. Football players being bullied seems like small potatoes when little kids are hanging themselves because of Facebook messages. Here’s a question, who does one come back from this? You can’t seriously walk back into any locker room as Jonathon Martin and think anybody is f*ckign with you, can you?
Champ: Yeah, Jonathan Martin may have committed career suicide. Which, again, is crazy. Because he didn’t do the wrong thing here. It’s ironic (and telling) that some people are calling him a coward for going this route, when what he’s doing actually took waaaaaaaaaay more courage than just punching someone in the face. This isn’t a kid tattling because someone took his milk. This is an educated man (a Stanford grad, if I’m not mistaken) who is likely fully aware of the ramifications of going outside of the locker room with this. He basically put himself against NFL culture. Is he going to “win?” Well, that depends on how you define winning.
(And for the people who swear that this wouldn’t have happened to them, that they would have “handled it like a man” or whatever the fuck else, I don’t believe you. You need more people.)
Also interesting is the fact that, despite Incognito being quoted as calling Jonathan Martin a nigger, some of the Black Dolphins players are supporting him. For the record, Mike Wallace (one of the quoted supporters) is a known idiot—so perhaps just the dumb Black players are supporting him—but this does speak to that whole issue about how certain types of Black people aren’t considered to be “authentically Black.” Basically, the Stanford-educated Martin isn’t Black enough for some of his Black teammates to side with him instead of the thug hick who called him a “half-nigger.”
What would you do if someone called you a half-nigger?
PJ: I’d go cry in the car. But I wouldn’t go tell either. And if I was genuinely offended (jury’s out on whether I would be), and I was the size of Jonathan Martin, I’d mollywop the sh*t out of Incognito or at least try. My guess is, my man Martin has some other issues. Which is why…he went to cry in the car.
Wouldn’t you go cry in the car??