Richie Incognito...What's Love Got To Do With It?

Richie Incognito...What's Love Got To Do With It?
Miami Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathon Martin

"My actions were coming from a place of love. No matter how bad or how vulgar it sounds, that's how we communicate, that's how our friendship was. Those are the facts and that's what I'm accountable for."

Miami Dolphins' offensive guard  Richie Incognito to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, on his relationship with Jonathon Martin

A place of WHAT?? Call me old fashioned. Say that I don't understand because I'm a woman.

But... since when is threatening to rape a guy's sister coming from "a place of love?"  Or calling Martin a "half n----- piece of (expletive)?

Uh-huh.  That was love?? Should Martin then have reached out to Incognito and hugged him after he said these words, and exclaimed "Thank you, thank you, brother. I needed that!"

Don't THINK so!!

For these, and 1,200 more similar texts and voicemails that were passed between Incognito and his 'good friend' Martin,  Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins on Nov. 2.

Incognito confirmed in the interview that he had left the reported voicemail but contended that there was no bullying and that he was actually a close friend to Martin. Well, sort of. Incognito then confessed that said maybe, just maybe, he took some things "a bit too far."

I know a little something about bullying. Just link on a couple of my previous blogs!  I also know a little something about locker room culture, having covered NFL locker rooms since 1989. They've always been raucous. The players tease each other, but it's understood that they stand together, even with a teammate in trouble (witness New York Yankees team captain Derek Jeter at the PED trial of fellow Yankee Alex Rodriguez.) Team sports are a brotherhood. And a sisterhood, for that matter. I get it. It is that brotherhood that allows Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' locker room to stand behind Incognito, while professing to "understand" Martin's distress.

But this kind of bullying goes to a deeper level. Who draws the line, when none is drawn for you?  What happens when it, as Incognito said, 'goes too far?' Who calls the bully out? Is it the person being abused? A third party witness? A passerby? It's supposed to be the line captains. Someone like a Jay Cutler or Lance Briggs. If they they condone the behavior, or wave it off, what then?

Currently, Martin is with his family in California. ESPN reported that he was hospitalized briefly for emotional distress at a South Florida facility shortly before he left the team.

Offensive lineman Jonathon Martin

Offensive lineman Jonathon Martin

Can we say that if someone is hospitalized for emotional distress, that is far enough?

Despite the outwardly tough shell of athletes, it hurts to have your dignity taken away. Just ask former Chicago Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer. Along with All-Pro linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the Bears were thought to have one of the best linebacking corps in the league in the mid-2000's. I've met and interviewed Hillenmeyer, and believe me, his interview on the Score 670 was as big a surprise to me as anyone.

“The first year I filled in for (Brian) Urlacher when he was on injured reserve (in 2004) for a large part of the year, I hated coming into work because of (offensive line captain) Olin (Kreutz.) He was a jerk. He was riding me because I was the third-year guy, or second-year guy trying to fill in for a super star. I can relate in the sense that you’re going to have people in your workplace that you don’t necessarily like.

Former Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer, to the Score Sportsradio 670, 2013

Most of the time, bullies don't even realize what they're doing. Upon being confronted, they usually say, "What, who me? I didn't hurt anybody. I didn't do anything bad. I was just kidding. That guy (or girl), just took it the wrong way."

That's right, blame the victim when you get caught.

They see it as love" and "tough love," and never think they're doing anything to hurt anyone. In the NFL In fact, most bullies think they are downright nice guys. Generous, even, because they think they're 'helping' a young man grow up. Most don't recognize what is said and done as abuse. It's really sad, and damaging for abuser and abuse victim alike.

A classic case is Jerry Sandusky, who never thought he was hurting the 23 boys he was convicted of abusing at Penn State. He called it "horsing around" at first, then he said the boys were making it up. Even after the trial and months in prison He STILL doesn't get that what he did, no matter innocently he intended....wasn't right. It damaged people.

The only way to fight a bully is to meet the bully with equal strength. Remember the movie "City Slickers?" has some great dialogue about bullying? Phil (Daniel Stern) the henpecked grocery store manager, finally takes matters into his own hands when two drunken cowboys try to intimidate the group. A calf's life is in the bully's hands as they stick a gun into the calf's mouth:

Daniel Stern...the bullied Phil in "City Slickers"

Daniel Stern...the bullied Phil in "City Slickers"

Phil Berquist: [Phil grabs the gun out of the dirt and holds it to Jeff's head at the same time holding a handful of Jeff's hair forcibly, looking to T.R] Put the gun down! Put down the goddamned gun!

Jeff: Mmmm Mmmmm MMMM!

[Jeff looks over to T.R., nervously agreeing with Phil's order]

Mitch Robbins: Phil.

Phil Berquist: I'm not going to let them bully us anymore!

Mitch Robbins: Phil.

Phil Berquist: My father-in-law was a bully!

Mitch Robbins: Phil!

Phil Berquist: I hate bullies! Because bullies don't just bully you,

[Phil gets on his haunches, the gun still pressed to Jeff's forehead]

Phil Berquist: they take away your dignity!

I agree. When someone's dignity is damaged, like Jonathon Martin, it's gone too far.

What's most important here, is to change the environment in which they live and work. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, late to the table, just appointed a prominent New York-based attorney to direct an independent investigation into workplace conduct among the Dolphins.  And consider this:

We are told that playing sports builds character and fosters leadership skills. If that’s true, these so-called leaders — who always seem so strong, so powerful and so brave on the playing field — are turning into cowards when they are needed the most.

Juliet Macur, Editorial, New York Times

There are many ways of building a winning team.  But I can't think of anything more damaging than tearing down individuals' core beings and calling it 'love.'  Take First Corinthians 13: 1-2 says:

Though I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. 2 I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing."

If you need guidelines on what is bullying, my friend and fellow ChicagoNow author Carrie Goldman has written a wonderful book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Child Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

Let real love...caring for others...be your guide.

 

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