'Hot topic'? Fins story more than that
The initial reaction to the Richie Incognito story was interesting, if not predictable.
Before all the details came out, when we heard only that a Miami Dolphins player was accused of bullying a younger teammate, a common but somewhat quiet opinion among those in the media was that Incognito would not be the only one who would have a hard time finding a job in the NFL again.
In other words, Jonathan Martin should have toughed it out, or certainly should have kept it private. And now that he hadn't, now that in one sportswriter's words, "he ratted out a teammate," he would have a hard time being accepted on another team.
You know something is a hot topic in America when it becomes a "hot topic" on non-sports talk shows such as "The View." And when, facts be damned, an actor who is a guest on that show mocks Martin for allowing himself to be bullied by another football player.
As more details have emerged this week, even some old-school types have come around to the realization that Incognito's behavior in text messages alone crossed over from bullying to harassment. But the team dynamic in sports is often a confusing and bizarre world of its own, and one in which the rules of civilized society do not always apply.
The Sun Sentinel on Wednesday cited team sources in reporting that coaches asked Incognito to "toughen up" Martin after his fellow offensive lineman missed a voluntary workout last spring, but that Incognito took it too far.
Just as obvious is that, before this is over, Martin's life will be thoroughly dissected. NFL sources told ESPN that Martin recently checked himself into a South Florida hospital for "emotional distress" and later returned to his California hometown with his parents. (The Sun Sentinel reported Martin left the team after he was the victim of a lunchroom prank by his fellow offensive linemen.)
The culture of sports often encourages this, allowing the low-level hazing that took place when Martin and fellow rookies were given embarrassing haircuts by their teammates. Why? Undoubtedly because the players doing it had it done to them.
Is it fair to compare this to the "real world?" To imagine, for example, how it would it be tolerated if the new male employees in an accounting firm were made to put on makeup and dress in women's clothes for a road trip as part of company tradition? Yet that is considered a common and accepted practice among Major League Baseball teams and their rookie players.
It's easy to anticipate the next reaction phase.
Aren't we being a little too sensitive? In our rush to be politically correct, aren't we overreacting to something that is just a sports thing and usually kept within the confines of the locker room?
Was Michael Jordan a bully, for example, when he threw the occasional practice elbow into the ear of a younger, in-his-view softer, teammate? Or was he, in the interest of wanting to win, trying to toughen them up for the rigors of the NBA? And would prohibiting veteran players from requiring rookies to carry their luggage or buy donuts for a team meeting now be an exercise in overcompensation and compassion gone wild?
Again, depends who you talk to.
The word "bully" should elicit a strong emotional reaction from anyone who pays even passing attention to current events and is not presently living in a cave. Too many teenage boys and girls have taken their own lives in recent years after being subjected to bullying, often overlooked for years by adults who should have protected them.
In the case of Incognito, the Internet has been filled with reactions of disgust while former players talk about how the so-called honor code of what goes on in the locker room should stay in the locker room. But what should we make of Martin's teammates, some of whom presumably witnessed Incognito's abusive behavior and did not come to the younger player's defense?
Even in the immediate wake of the accusations, some Dolphins players rushed to support Incognito, a team leader who was elected by his teammates to represent them on a six-man leadership counsel. Receiver Mike Wallace called him "a great guy."
But think about this. What if, God forbid, Martin did not check himself into a South Florida hospital to receive treatment but rather, like those teenagers, felt so desperate, he acted as they did? How would it be viewed then?
Either way, you can bet that would be a "hot topic," too.