Imagine yourself taking a job where, for the first year or two, you have to put up with verbal taunts and physical intimidation from your more senior co-workers; where you are expected to serve their every whim, submit to involuntary head shaving and pick up the tab for thousands of dollars worth of meals that those more senior workers consume. You probably would say, “Take this job and shove it.”
That is pretty much what second-year tackle Jonathan Martin told the Miami Dolphins this week when he left the team and returned home to Los Angeles. Hazing is said to be endemic in the NFL and other professional sports, but, for Martin, the treatment was even worse.
Martin’s teammate, veteran offensive lineman Richie Incognito, reportedly sent Martin a series of menacing texts and voice messages. Among other things, Incognito reportedly used racial slurs, threatened to slap Martin’s “real mother,” said he would defecate in Martin’s mouth and then kill him. In the locker room, Incognito was the ringleader in bullying aimed at Martin. On Monday, when members of the offensive line abruptly left the dining table as Martin took a seat, the Stanford grad slammed down his tray and walked out.
The incident illuminates a perverse side of America’s favorite sport and the twisted example of manhood it sets.
Incognito has been a troublemaker at least since his days playing at Nebraska. He was kicked off two college teams and has been disciplined for dirty play as a professional. Why would anyone want to hire this guy or keep him around once hired? Because he is good at what he does -- physical intimidation -- and that is greatly valued in the brutal world of football. Up to this point, it had not mattered that he is a creep, but Incognito has been suspended from the Dolphins with little expectation that he will return.
The juvenile hazing that NFL rookies endure is as disturbing as Incognito’s thuggish actions. The excuse is that the bad treatment builds team spirit, which is absurd. There are a thousand better ways to forge a strong team. Hazing is childish behavior that real men leave behind when they sober up and exit the frat house.
NFL players prove their toughness every time they take the field. Off the field, they deserve the same thing any one of us should expect in the workplace: respect and freedom from harassment. Jonathan Martin is a smart guy who considered going to law school instead of pursuing a football career. He might just be too grown up to waste his time with immature punks like Incognito and his pals.
Tellingly, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that there is a sign posted above Incognito’s locker that reads: “There are two things Richie Incognito does not like: Taxes and rookies.” With his lucrative football career suddenly over, Incognito now has the chance to take his greedy, simple-minded, in-your-face philosophy into a new arena: politics. In the House tea party caucus, he’d fit right in.
[For the Record, 5:15 p.m. PST Nov. 5: An earlier version of the cartoon with this post misspelled Richie Incognito's last name as Icognito.]
[For the Record, 6:07 a.m. PST Nov. 6: An earlier version of this post misspelled Richie Incognito's last name as Icognito.]