What’s happening right now in Miami is, in a way, perfect. It’s also horrible on every level, but it’s given us the exact ingredients needed to have a larger public discussion about grand issues in football, like how the sport defines masculinity, and on a wider scale, how coach-player interaction should be conducted in times of conflict, especially in youth sports.
It’s all been both fascinating and cruel, engaging and disgusting, intriguing and revolting. At the center, of course, is a voicemail and text messages from now suspended Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, a vile and disturbing string of inexcusable hate left for Jonathan Martin to hear. The NFL is now investigating, Martin has lawyered up and is going through therapy, and there’s a very real chance both players have taken their last snap in Miami.
Bullying and hazing, and the extent to which both can erode the inner man, have been the main topics of exploration all week. Some murkiness clouded that conversation yesterday when almost universally Dolphins players defended Incognito, saying that he and Martin were friends as far as they could see. Brian Hartline was the most outspoken, telling us that Martin laughed at the voicemail initially, and that the two would sit together on team flights. He also later shared a picture of Incognito and Martin chillin’ happily in New Orleans.
None of this is surprising, because what’s normal and standard ribbing to one party is hurtful to another. It’s entirely possibly and reasonable to think that Martin internalized and hid his torment deeply, so deeply that it went undetected. And while doing so he also tried to blend in, and gain acceptance. Nothing worked.
But I don’t know any of that definitively, and neither do you. No, through nearly a week of reaction I’m left with questions. Specifically, two of them.
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