By Craig Hayes
Once the media attaches the suffix “gate” to a scandal, it is a sign that rationality is going out of the window, replaced instead by judgmental columnists and talking heads on CNN, or in this case, ESPN desperately trying to coin the next catchy soundbite.
Dolphingate has arrived.
What started with a player checking himself into a mental health facility has morphed into a discussion across America about race, bullying, locker room culture, and in some circles, the survival of football itself.
Last night the opening story on my local Ten O’clock News was a feature on workplace bullying and I live about 1500 miles from Miami.
That is a sure sign that a story has gone off the rails.
The Jonathan Martin/Ritchie Incognito dispute is not about bullying at work or race relations in the NFL; it is about a football player who doesn’t like the culture of his job, and is clearly in need of some professional help.
I’ve played my share of football in my life, and I have spent the majority of my legal career focused on representing employees in every conceivable type of case on workplace conditions. The one thing about this case that is being ignored, or to be more accurate, the one thing people seem to be afraid to say to Jonathan Martin is this; maybe pro football isn’t right for you.
I don’t say that because Martin didn’t “man up” and fight Incognito as many current and former NFL Players have suggested he should have done, but I say it because it seems to me that there are a lot of things about the job of being a football player that Jonathan Martin doesn’t seem to enjoy.
I specialize in representing police officers; at least once a month I will get a call from a young officer who will essentially complain that they don’t like taking orders from a particular sergeant; which is akin to becoming a masseuse and complaining about having to touch peoples' naked backs.
I will fight like hell in court for any client on any issue, but there are times when the most important part of my job is to tell someone who hates the most rudimentary aspects of being a cop the following: maybe this isn’t the right career for you.
In any profession, an employee needs to adapt to the job, the job will not adapt to you.
Would you like to be a corporate lawyer? Get ready for brutal hours, tedious document review, and the reality of a partner verbally insulting everything from your intelligence to your work ethic if you happen to cite one case wrong in a 100 page brief you spent the entire weekend writing.
Does becoming a stockbroker seem interesting? You better enjoy the company of some of the most hyper-competitive, obnoxious men and some women in the corporate world, along with the enmity of many Americans who think you are in training to become the Antichrist.
Do you want to be a teacher? You’d better love even the most obnoxious of children and have patience for the overindulgent parents who question why you had the audacity to give their genius child a B+ on that English paper.
These are broad strokes, not every boss is a jerk, even in a law firm. My bosses are fine. And the law provides protection for all employees when companies and individuals cross the line. But at the risk of sounding a bit old school, it seems that many young people today believe that they are entitled to have the career of their choosing, on their terms.
I personally know human resource managers who have fielded phone calls from the parents, that’s right the parents, of adult employees to complain about Junior’s poorer than expected evaluations.
I don’t know Martin, I am not a Dolphin “insider,” but there are a few things I know about football that come with the territory.
First off, you are going to work with many aggressive, tough, alpha males. These are people who have spent a great part of their lives being praised and earning accolades for being very effective in committing violent acts on other people. Legal, but violent nonetheless. These are guys who, for the most part, have been able to solve problems by simply pushing that problem out of the way.
They enjoy living in an insular, and at times sophomoric type of culture where you will be initiated through pranks and certain other indignities. You are going to have to live with loudmouths like Richie Incognito, who appears to enjoy dishing verbal abuse to both his opponents and his teammates, but who is also the first guy most of those same teammates want to have their backs in a fight.
The guys in this world love someone like Incognito when he is on their team, and hate him when he is the opponent, and he is not alone in this regard. Football is full of guys like him, particularly linemen.
Did you see the video circulating around the internet that shows Incognito stomping shirtless around a bar like a lunatic scaring the hell out of everyone? Does anyone honestly believe that such behavior is unique in the NFL? Or even football in general? Everyone reading this article who ever played a down in high school knew a guy exactly like him, maybe you were him.
This is a sport that basically boils down to one goal; physically beat down the man across the line from you. Why does Alabama always win? Because their players perform that essential skill far better than anyone else, period.
This sport is not the real world. It is not corporate America. Their owners are corporate, as is the League as a whole, but the players?
These are men, especially the linemen, who have chosen a life that destroys their bodies, risks paralysis daily, and all to a man realize that when they can’t play anymore, they'll be thirty-something feeling like fifty.
I am not arguing that this world should be lawless and without any oversight, but we should stop with this ridiculous idea that the NFL has a bullying culture that needs to be stopped. They live in a competitive world, with each other and their rivals. Physicality is rewarded and necessary. Their coaches yell, insult, and encourage aggression; this is not an insurance office.
If anyone doubts that their world is vastly different than ours do the following. The next time you start a meeting, slap your boss in the face a few times to get him going, give that girl next to you a friendly pat on the butt, and when the deal is closed run around the room chest bumping and head butting your colleagues. Afterwards, enjoy unemployment.
This isn’t just the opinion of a lawyer who didn't make it past junior college level football (as a scrub no less). Check out the reaction to the incident by the Dolphins and other NFL players. There is far more vocal support for Incognito than there is for Martin. That support is across the board; white players, black players, linemen, receivers, everyone except Josh Brown but he is a kicker and they’re known to be crazy. If the team could only keep one of the two players involved and had a vote, Martin would be the one looking for the job.
This is not a case for inmates running the asylum. Rather it is an assertion that Martin checking himself into to a treatment facility may just be an example of thinning the herd. Not to say that Martin is soft or crazy, but it's clear there are issues here beyond some verbal jabs by a teammate.
And that isn’t proof that Incognito “bullied” him into submission. Prior to Martin leaving, based on reports thus far, he did not complain to any veteran players or other teammates, he did not make a complaint to his coaches, and nobody on the team ever stepped in and confronted Incognito over his alleged verbal abuse.
The problem here is that once Martin’s family released the voice mails and text messages, the media’s insatiable appetite for scandal saw one thing, the N Word.
I am not excusing Incognito’s use of the word (although Brian Hartline's claims that Martin played it for other players and laughed about it seems to lessen its usual callousness in this case), but once the voice mails were released, rationality disappeared, the media stopped looking at any possibility that Martin simply lost it and needs help, and the story transformed into one tagline, Racist Bully.
Media members became so blinded by the sensationalism of the language that guys like Dan Patrick actually went as far to say, “But he threatened to KILL HIM!” Really Dan? Did he? How did Martin ever survive?
They chose to ignore that many black players were defending Incognito and disputing claims that he was some virulent racist. They failed to even consider that based on what the players have said, what actually happened on the practice field and the locker room, and Martin’s history with the team, one possibility.
Maybe football just isn't right for Jonathan Martin.