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Rehabilitating Racists: Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, and the State of Our Society

Rehabilitating Racists: Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, and the State of Our Society

By Dennis Loo (11/11/13)

One of the most peculiar - and telling aspects - of the Richie Incognito v. Jonathan Martin case in the NFL is the reaction of Dolphins players and other former players and coaches. To judge from their comments you would think that the victim in this case is Richie Incognito, not Jonathan Martin.

At Sports Illustrated, Jim Trotter summarizes NFL players' responses,

"I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person," said one personnel man, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man!" .... What fascinates me is how quickly the conversation among players and personnel people turned from Incognito's actions to those of Martin, who has not spoken publicly since the story broke last week. Again, no one defended Incognito, but they did wonder why Martin didn't "man up" and handle the situation one-on-one. ... "This is another ploy in the league's 'player safety' book. Incognito knew who to try. You never heard anything like this come from John Jerry or Mike Pouncey. Instead of being a man and confronting him, he acted like a coward and told like a kid."

Poor misunderstood, non-racist Richie! His career as one of the NFL's dirtiest players might be over! Former wide receiver Cris Carter, for example, devoted his early commentary on this case to hoping that Incognito's reputation as a bigot could be cleared so that he could find his way onto some other NFL team.

Poor Richie! His tough love for his beloved teammate, the man he called a "half nigger piece of shit," is being misinterpreted as racist bullying.

Apparently, when Richie said to Jonathan that he wanted to "shit in his mouth" and "kill him" he meant that he wanted to do it lovingly.

Ex-player and ex-coach Mike Ditka last week said Martin should have punched Incognito in the mouth and this week he called Martin "a baby." This matches the earlier advice of Dolphins' General Manager Jeff Ireland who reportedly told Martin's attorney when he was contacted about the bullying that Martin should punch Incognito.

Those who say that this would have been resolved by Jonathan Martin slugging out Richie Incognito fail to see that this wasn't and isn't just a one on one situation between Martin and Incognito. The same siding with Incognito and ganging up against Martin that is going on now is what was going on before this story became national news: Incognito was the leading edge of a gang assault on Martin. If you think that Martin should have punched out Incognito and that this would have resolved it, you don't understand this situation's dynamics and how deep it goes. This case is a concentrated expression of the ugly character of warrior culture evident in the military, in police departments, and in the NFL: misogyny, racism, and chauvinism. The reason why Martin could not have stayed and resolved this in house is being reinforced daily since he left the team: the ganging up on Incognito's side now is exactly what was going on before and why Martin could not any longer tolerate the situation. 

This is how Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic put it last week:

If you squint hard enough you might dimly perceive the outlines of some phantasm, some illusion. You might see power back there behind the scrum. You might see how a national valorization of violence attaches itself to profit. On the streets of Chicago, violently confronting someone for disrespecting you is evidence of a "culture of pathology." In the NFL it is evidence of handling things "the right way."

This response by NFL players that Martin should have just hauled off and slugged Incognito and kept this matter "in the house" is the same kind of thinking that operates within police departments, among prison guards, in the military, and elsewhere: You don't break ranks. No matter how bad and criminal the behavior, you don't tell on others.

Football, as coaches never quit saying, is a team sport. As such, players are constantly reminded that they rise or fall on the basis of their acting like a team and it is their collective efforts and their playing as a team that will determine whether they win or lose. For these same players and others like Coach Ditka to say that individual actions are what matter here and would have resolved this - it would all have been fine if Martin had just taken on Incognito one on one - and that it is not a team matter - both in its inception and in its resolution - is sheer deceitfulness or stupidity.

Someone like Martin who graduated from Stanford, speaks gently, and who majored in Classics/Ancient History, despite his size and his tremendous skill, does not fit the stereotype of the warrior woman-hating chauvinist. This is why the Dolphins coaching staff reportedly asked Incognito, a team leader, to "toughen up" Martin after Martin missed a voluntary workout last Spring.

Former Giants running back Tiki Barber is saying that any team wants someone like Incognito on their roster:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a thug culture,” Barber said of NFL locker rooms. “It exists in some corners of the National Football League. And look, Richie Incognito is needed on some teams. They need that attitude.”

Exactly what "attitude" is it that they want?

It's not the actual performance here that Barber and others are talking about. It's the personality type. Those who don't treat others with utter contempt - minorities, women, etc. - and who don't talk about others in the most degrading way possible, well, they're just sissies.

This is not just about Incognito. This is not just about the Dolphins. This is not just about the NFL and it's not just about sports. It's about who we are.

The mindset that the Dolphins' management was trying to instill through their attack dog Richie Incognito is the same mindset that the U.S. military brainwashes its recruits with: this is my rifle, this is my gun (pointing at his penis); this one's for fighting, this one's for fun. The hatred that Incognito unleashed towards Martin - you "half nigger piece of shit" - is supposed to be extended towards one's rivals and is also generously shared within one's own ranks among the people who are supposed to be your buddies. The logic that divides the world into good and bad inescapably gets turned inward. There is a palpable fear at the bottom of this. This "manliness" that can't tolerate any deviations from the most rigid of dichotomous categories - male v. female, strong v. weak, white v. black, brutal v. sensitive - is part and parcel of a sexist, national chauvinism that worries constantly that it doesn't measure up to its own impossible polarities. No wonder Incognito was or is on Paxil. No wonder ex-players and military veterans have to solve these internal struggles by suicide.

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