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Jonathan Martin Does Not Need Your Nonsense

A few weeks ago, an NFL player named Jonathan Martin, offensive left tackle for the Miami Dolphins, walked off the team and sought counseling for emotional health issues. This has led to the suspension of his teammate, the incongruously-named Richie Incognito, on charges of outlandish workplace harassment; an official NFL investigation into the team, now reaching to behavior by the coaches; and the kind of publicity you just can't buy. Plenty of NFL players, sports pundits, and armchair tough guys have denounced the 6'5", 312-pound Martin as soft and weak and proclaimed that outsiders just can't understand what goes on in an NFL locker room. While I don't accept that locker rooms are sacred spaces that outsiders have no right to criticize, it is true that we don't have a great sense of what is going on inside them. Maybe Miami's locker room is unusually dysfunctional, and maybe it's dysfunctional in ways that every NFL locker rooms is. But in either case, Martin may not be any weaker than the other players. He may simply have more options.

Martin played for Stanford and majored in classical history. He's a 6'5" behemoth who's fluent in Latin. His parents are attorneys who met at Harvard, and he turned down a chance be a fourth-generation Harvard student in order to play for nationally-ranked Stanford. (It's worth noting that Martin is bi-racial and the longest Harvard legacy in his family is on the African-American side, going back to a great-grandfather in the 1920s.)

Those facts may lend themselves to a familiar narrative about the privileged kid who isn't used to doing things the hard way. But playing football for Stanford is not really the easy way. Martin played on a top-ten, nationally ranked team; that team could not have competed that successfully unless the football training was extremely rigorous. Playing football for Harvard, on the other hand, would be much easier. The football part of playing football for Stanford isn't significantly different than playing football for Nebraska, Mississippi, or UCLA. What is different is that Stanford football players (and excuse my pride here) also have an extremely rigorous academic program, comparable to any Ivy League school's. At Stanford, football practice is like football practice at Nebraska and class is like class at Harvard. Which part of that sounds like the easy way?

But Martin's background does give him options that many other NFL players don't have. I don't think Martin is the only player who's felt like he can't take the abuse any more. The difference is that most other players have to take it anyway, even when they can't. Where else are they going to go?

If Jonathan Martin never plays football again, he will certainly not see NFL-style money for many years, and possibly never earn as much over the course of his working life. The NFL is paying him seven figures a year. But the total sacrifice of lifetime income may actually not be that large, and there is a real possibility that over the next thirty years Martin could make as much outside the game as he would if he stays in the NFL. He is one of the players most likely to replace his football income by other means. That money would come slower and be less glamorous. But if he went back to Stanford to finish his classics degree and then went into law or finance, he might make upper-middle-class money or better very quickly, and potentially pull down seven figures a year near the end of his career. Instead of making millions for a few years in his twenties, and then some lesser income, he could make a lesser income and then a huge one. Or he could decide that making a six-figure salary in a workplace where no one calls him a "half nigger," talks about "shit[ting] in his mouth," threatens to gang-rape his sister, or shakes him down for $15,000 is better than making millions while being relentlessly extorted and degraded. Jonathan Martin can afford, in the most literal sense, not to put up with that shit.

The average NFL player, on the other hand, does in fact need to take that shit. A great many NFL players cannot afford to walk away. They do not have the choice between making their NFL salaries and making a dignified living as an affluent professional somewhere else. They have the choice between making millions of dollars, no matter the cost to them personally, and making working-class money. If they left the game, many of them would simply be large men without college degrees. For many, their partial college educations were not a genuine preparation for any other field. For most players, there is no other plan. It's the NFL or nothing.

Nothing is more human than resenting someone who is free to walk away from abuse that you have to accept. It isn't reasonable or fair, but it is very, very human. If you have to take as much as your coaches and teammates dish out without showing that it bothers you, and you've developed whatever coping strategies you need to keep accepting that mistreatment, there's no one you hate more than the guy who doesn't have to take it. You can't afford to hate the people who actually beat up on your body and your mind. You have to tell yourself you don't. So there's lots of resentment waiting to be transferred to the guy who decides he's too good to take the abuse that you have to take. What makes him special? It isn't fair. And actually, it isn't, although it's not the guy who's refusing the mistreatment who's to blame.

And let's be very clear: people defending Incognito's behavior or denigrating Martin's have talked about the hazing and bullying, always in vague generalizations, as necessary "toughening." But when you get down to the specific behaviors involved, it's never about making the younger player tougher. It's about making them compliant and docile to authority, beating them down and forcing them to accept any abuse whatever petty tyrant in the locker room decides to dish out. Being "tough" in this context means being a better victim. No one who demands that you give them $15,000 so they can take a trip to Las Vegas is doing that to build your character. And forking over the money does not make you strong. It makes you a chump. That is what the hazing in Miami's locker room was designed to do: not to make the younger players strong, but to break their will, to make them pushovers, terrified to miss a "voluntary" extra practice, afraid to do anything that would displease a coach.

Most of our public conversation about the NFL lately has been about concussions and brain damage. But we cannot have any serious conversation about player health when the players themselves have been cowed this way. An NFL culture that prizes obedience above anything else, that demands players accept any abuse they receive in silence, can never protect its players' health. The whole system is designed to destroy them.

This blog is even more insightful than usual, Doc. And more heartbreaking. The way human beings treat each other can be soul-crushingly depressing. Sometimes, it makes me hope the planet wins.

Thanks, Orlando.

This fellow did just walk away:

Quitting the N.F.L.: For John Moffitt, the Money Wasn’t Worth It

In parts of three seasons as a guard with the Seattle Seahawks and the Broncos, Moffitt, 27, blew out his knee, had elbow surgery and hurt his shoulders. Sleep apnea left him exhausted. Floaters cross his vision from all the hits to the head he absorbed in his nearly 20 years of playing football.
 
“I don’t want to risk health for money,” said Moffitt, who walked away from about $1 million in salary, various benefits for retirees who play at least three seasons and quite possibly a trip to the Super Bowl with the 9-1 Broncos. “I’m happy, and I don’t need the N.F.L.”

In a related vein, I just got the book, Slow Getting Up for my Dad. Receiver Nate Jackson writes about his brutish and short NFL career.

Yeah, I saw this Times story right after I posted. It's nice to be timely.

It's interesting that Moffitt quit shortly after Martin did.

Same with the military. Yes, Doc?

I don't know, Peter. I haven't been through basic training, but my hope and general understanding is that military training is not like this. And I react strongly to people who use militarized language to glorify the NFL, as if football players were soldiers. Playing football is not fighting a war, and virtually no one involved in the NFL has ever served.

There is the endless abuse of people who are deployed over and over again, and kept on duty when they should be sent home to heal, and those are people who don't have enough choices. But that's about policies that go much deeper than training regimes.

 

 

My experience with the army in 77 to 81 was that those in command did not use other low level personnel to enforce discipline. Not even in basic training. Everyone goes through the same basic combat training, though there may be some differences between the services. during my time after basics I was in a non-combat MOS (military occupational specialty, simply a job classification)  I have heard that this sort of bullying is used in advanced combat training and combat units.

Chris Rock makes the comment that N-words screw things up for Black people. The Black players and coaches on the Dolphin team did not halt the use of the racial slur. The indications are that Blacks on the team thought that a redneck was more street and therefore more Black than Jonathan Martin. This is sad. Education, proper speech and manners are now not to be associated with Blacksn.

When one combines the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy  with the abusive locker-room behavior, NFL football is in danger of becoming the relic that professional boxing has become. Yes, boxing exists, but the universal name recognition of the heavyweight champion is a thing of the past.

Parents will ave their kids playing basketball or soccer.

Lacrosse is big around here.

Actually just ran across an ESPN article, Youth football participation drops:  

The nation's largest youth football program, Pop Warner, saw participation drop 9.5 percent between 2010-12, a sign that the concussion crisis that began in the NFL is having a dramatic impact at the lowest rungs of the sport. According to data provided to "Outside the Lines," Pop Warner lost 23,612 players, thought to be the largest two-year decline since the organization began keeping statistics decades ago. Consistent annual growth led to a record 248,899 players participating in Pop Warner in 2010; that figure fell to 225,287 by the 2012 season. Pop Warner officials said they believe several factors played a role in the decline, including the trend of youngsters focusing on one sport. But the organization's chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Bailes, cited concerns about head injuries as "the No. 1 cause."

Yeah, the race and class thing was something I didn't want to get into, but it's very sad.

The charge of weakness is a pretty interesting knee jerk response.  How do we treat or think about people who respond to bullying with violence?  In this case, people are saying, "that giant can't be a victim of bullying.  It makes no sense."  But what is the expectation here?  That he use his physical attributes to put a stop to it?  Is that really the world that people want to live in?  Our lives are full of hierarchies, after all.  Large, physically imposing men can be bullied by smaller bosses or smaller police officers or even smaller people in the service industry.  Should the larger man lash out against every Napoleon complex he encounters?  What if the bully is a woman?  We don't want these big guys to be weak, though.  It hurts the mythology we've built around them.  So, okay.  We're giving them license to lash out.  No, we are demanding that they lash out.  I wonder if there might be unforeseen consequences to this.  If you are large and can be reasonably expected to hurt the people who bother you, then you must not remove yourself from an abusive situation and heaven forbid if you seek counseling.  A good number of people want you to lose it and take some villain's head off his shoulders!

Except they don't want that because these people are the first to demand the police get involved when that actually happens.  They are the first to demand tough criminal sentences.  They are the first to demand the quick restoration of civilized order.

Or maybe they just want to big guy to shut up and take it and never do anything about it.  That means that these people are taking the bully's side.  You have to wonder why they would. I'm sure the people around them could offer some explanations.

Yes to all of this.

First of all, Jonathan Martin can't fight Richie Incognito. Given both man's size and strength, the only physical option would be felony criminal assault. Anyone attacking Incognito would have to set out to do real damage. And someone Jonathan Martin's size attacking someone with the intent to do real damage is almost inevitably criminal assault.

And of course, forcing a grown adult to fight other men in the locker room is a way to strip him of his dignity and self-worth. Martin was surely raised to see that kind of behavior as a sign of complete personal failure.

Any workplace that even passively encourages its workers to physically attack each other has gone, and I'm going to use a technical term here, batshit insane.

Mike Pouncey, the African-American Miami Dophin Center, has been served and is being requested to testify in the Aaron Hernandez trial. Hernandez,, a firmer Boston Patriot, has been charged in a murder. Pouncey was a college roommate of Hernandez. Pouncey and his brother wore hats supporting Hernandez after the charges were filed.i suppose Hernandez is more authentically Black than Martin in Pouncey's eyes.

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