Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Martin, Incognito and...WTF?

The two biggest stories in the NFL this past weekend focused not on the games being played, but rather on two coaches who suffered possibly life-threatening episodes, and the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin harassment case in Miami.  I'll comment on the former in a future post, but focus today on the latter.

I've read a ton of material on this case in the past few days - tweets, AP reports, columns, articles, comments from current and former players, comments from readers and fans of the NFL, and so on.  It's bothered me a great deal to see so many players, personnel men and fans lay the blame on Martin, generally for not "manning up," for "not standing up for himself with Incognito," and for the cardinal sin of taking a team issue outside of the locker room.  Andrew Sharp has a well-organized and well-written piece up on Grantland, and I want to focus on a couple of things that he writes because I think they're reasonable assertions, albeit ones that I think are dead wrong.  Writes Sharp, in two separate paragraphs:
Cheering hypercompetitve testosterone junkies on the field and then expecting civility everywhere else seems pretty naive, and judging the actions of Martin and Incognito as if they were two normal civilians is just as big a stretch. Cruelty isn't that unusual in Incognito's workplace, and most professional athletes respond differently than Martin. The guys who say we wouldn't understand are definitely right.
And then, later in the same piece:
There's a disconnect between people who play professional sports and people who watch them, and that gulf is probably a lot wider than we realize. Even if a world full of all-access shows and instant information allows us to know more about athletes and locker rooms than ever before, we may never actually understand any of this. 
Focusing on the first paragraph - yes, I've read my share of stories about how some players (sport doesn't matter) have used fear and harassment to "motivate" their teammates to achieve at a higher level. With some, it has worked, and in some of those cases, it's involved the player being harassed standing up to the bully and telling him, essentially, to go f*ck himself.  The problem I have with this argument is that it strikes me as nonsensical to treat Martin and Incognito as anything except "normal civilians," especially when the matter at hand is one of law.  I don't think you're going to find many football fans clamoring for legislation to set different standards of public behavior for professional athletes.

And here's the problem I have with the second paragraph.  To some degree, I agree that I'm never going to fully understand everything that takes place behind closed doors in a locker room.  I'm sure that there are many things said and done in the spirit of camaraderie that don't pass the smell test of how one is generally expected to behave around and act towards fellow human beings.  But I'm not certain that the professional sports locker room is unique in that regard, and I've yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why locker rooms should be above the law when it comes to workplace harassment.

And in the end, that's what this case is about - workplace harassment - though I understand why it's difficult for people understand why such protections are necessary for grown men who basically have the ability to kick the crap out of 98 or so percent of the general population.  And in a workplace setting, the supervisors, workers and offenders don't get to define what constitutes "harassment" - the victim does. 

It strikes me as odd that - unless I've just missed it - the commissioner has yet to comment on this matter, although given the ongoing investigation I suppose it makes sense.  This is going to be a tough one, but there's a lot at stake here.  It seems to me that the NFL needs to make a clear statement that they're encouraging their players to behave and act as responsible human beings, and not simply like brute force giants trained for combat on the field.

We shall see.


le0pard13 said...

Hear, hear.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, your take is right on. If you talk about this situation with a non-sports fan, they immediately come to the same conclusion and, in fact, can't even understand the debate. Just because something is standard practice in a certain workplace, doesn't mean it isn't inappropriate and illegal. It just means it hasn't yet been confronted. Cheers. CK