Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito, and Not Giving a Shit
This news has been a whirlwind for the last few days as Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins because of “bullying”.
Now before I get much into it this event was a bit of a perfect storm. First, Richie Incognito is a bad dude. The list of fines, incidents and whatnot is long and ugly. However, despite all of that Incognito had a job with the Dolphins.
Why? Because he’s good obviously. Incognito was a Pro Bowl caliber player last year and is considered one of the top 12 guards in the league this year by Pro Football Focus.
On the other hand there’s Jonathan Martin. Martin is a second year player (note: not a rookie) who was expected to play a pivotal role at left tackle after letting Pro Bowler Jake Long leave as a free agent.
How is he playing? Like crap. Martin is the 63rd best tackle in the league as rated by PFF allowing seven sacks and another seven QB hits during the seven games he played. A second round draft pick a year ago, he’s a complete failure thus far.
Now what can make this pairing any worse? The fact that they played next to each other on the line.
Now as someone who is a football obsessive and a former lineman myself, there’s something that needs to be understood: toughness is an essential part of the game. Sure you can be the world’s biggest, fastest, and strongest man, but if you’re not mentally tough odds are you won’t be successful in the NFL.
Consider the case of Vince Young. Young was a top class athlete coming out of college and played one of the single greatest college performances of all time in the Rose Bowl of his senior year. When he came out of college the success bled into his rookie year. He was Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, and the Madden cover player. Life was good.
But a few seasons into his career, when the defense struggled, the run game sagged, and Young was expected to carry the load he faltered. Young struggled under the pressure from fans and media and went missing. He sat out the rest of that 2008 season and never fully recovered. He’s currently out of the league.
Football, like anything else, requires that you’re locked into the right mindset in order to perform to the best of your ability. Incognito is a guy who has that mindset and the stats to back it up. Martin doesn’t and his stats back it up too.
Now one of the things that I’ve noticed in this whole mess is the approach by former players compared to media types to the situation.
For media types, the response is one of political correctness. Obviously Incognito was crossing a line, he said a racial slur (a true high-horse hot button) and did something non-cuddly and fuzzy. Very non-media friendly by him.
For players, they all first acknowledge that “hazing” takes place in the locker room. This hazing isn’t in the way of demeaning or being cruel to the rookies as the connotation has evolved. Rather it’s a way of getting them out of their comfort zone and establishing that they need to earn the respect of fellow professionals. It’s things like singing a song in front of a group of people, which I’ve done at various orientations, or buying your fellow line mates breakfast.
In other words: not a big deal.
But the important thing is how they acknowledge the actions of Incognito. For example, Incognito forced Martin to pay $15,000 for an offensive lineman trip to Las Vegas. Martin did not want to go, but shelled out the money anyway and stayed home.
Now one of the common phrases that I’ve heard in various reactions had the phrase “As a man”, which says it all. It’s the personal pride of standing up for yourself and the toughness necessary to be willing to get beat up for defending yourself. It’s, at the very least, telling Incognito to fuck off. Players seem less concerned with the bullying and more concerned with the toughness.
The funny thing is this is what the Dolphins wanted to happen. The coaching staff wanted Incognito to toughen Martin up because Martin was considered pivotal to the team’s success.
Essentially this makes Incognito more a drill sergeant than a bully. It’s also why I don’t think the intent was to be racist but rather getting under someone’s skin. It’s about firing Martin up and race is an easy button to press for a reaction. In fact, he did a good job because Martin obviously is not tough enough to play against elite NFL competition.
All of this is why, in the context of football, I really don’t care about this story.
However it’s worth noting that it’s a perfect metaphor for the NFL today. Incognito is the gritty, nasty, mauler that teams love on the line because he plays good football. He’s just not family friendly. Conversely Martin is awful at football and too family friendly. Together, it’d a bad product.
So while the media will cause a lot of hoopla and the NFL will bring the hammer down on Incognito, remember this fact. Roger Goodell may have painted the house a new color, but its structure is still the same.
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