I rarely read an article and become so troubled by it that I feel compelled to draft a response. But in the case of recent bullying allegations associated with the Miami Dolphins, I just had to write something. In a recent Slate article by Josh Voorhees, the title poses a troubling question: "How Does an NFL Lineman Bully His 300-Pound Teammate? Allegedly With Racist Texts and Voice Mails."
While the text of the article does not take a definitive stand that I prefer to use when writing, it does identify problematic behavior that appears to be a pattern, at least by one team leader. It is the sort of inappropriate behavior that should never be accepted, no matter the size of the participants.
In addition to classic childish hazing practiced by virtually all NFL teams, in this case, veteran offensive lineman Richie Incognito's actions have gone way overboard. The Voorhees article identifies the mindset in play:
"Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that the following is a transcript of a voice message Incognito left for Martin in April 2013, a year after Martin was drafted:
"Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you." ...
Sources familiar with the tapes say these are terms Incognito used over time and were not isolated incidents, including the use of the racial epithet multiple times. Sources also say Martin received a series of texts that include derogatory terms referring to the female anatomy and sexual orientation."
The above quote suggests that Incognito is an idiot that deserves a serious lesson, another part of this story is perhaps not being told: the power of privilege and microaggressions. These are issues that rarely, if ever, are addressed by the media, or in society as a whole for that matter. While Incognito, from other media reports, appears to be a real difficult character, the story should not be whether Jonathan Martin can triumph in a fistfight between the two. This story at least seems to have an undercurrent of other issues.
Sadly, too often, when faced with such a suggestion, nonbelievers (typically non-minorities or those applying for these sacred slots), respond with prideful moral indignation to claims of discrimination of any sort. I for one can recall listening to one proclaim, "how dare they accuse me of being discriminatory, I can get a large group of [white] deans to demonstrate I am not." Not only was such a statement by an older, but well-recognized law professor, illogical, it obviously proved what counts, at least to him, too often is nothing other than what those in power believe is accurate.
As long as we continue such a stubborn, ignorant, and destructive approach, little will change. Critical scholars for sometime have noted that outsider groups in our society, because of constructions of race, gender, or other similar characteristics, are often reminded of their place in society, irrespective of their own individual achievements. While not a member of that group, I cannot imagine the struggles an African-American faces on a daily basis, from "Driving While Black," to the terrible bias of low expectations. I suspect what may have been going on in this case at least partially related to such a phenomenon. Let us not forget that this was same organization where the general manager asked a star African-American draftee whether his mother was a prostitute.
While perhaps a beat down may have been the fastest and simplest resolution to some, no one can be sure just how oppressive the environment was in that locker room, something I suspect we will soon hear more about. Nevertheless, in the message above, there appears to have at least been an undercurrent of racial animus, and perhaps surprisingly to some, gender identity issues.
Though different than the physical threats in this case, I too can recall when a group of colleagues tried to silence me on an area of law I have taught for 20 years, and one in which members of the group had a total of zero days of teaching experience. Those that didn't challenge me, remained silent. It was unsettling, insulting, and led me to conclude that no matter what my experience or achievements, my voice counted less than the others that were questioning me. This incident led me to literally get up from my chair and begin to leave the room, arguably not unlike Martin's act of leaving an environment he found unfair. In my case, only with my threat unraveling of a group dynamic, did my group somewhat respond, but not without making me feel somewhat shamed for my stance. Ironically, I now realize I had to go to such steps to assert my allegedly rightful place. Yet, I know the challenge to my expertise and experience would never had been attempted against one of my equally experienced non-minority colleagues.
Thus, the Martin case may actually have little to do about two giant brutes fighting, or about which of these enormous individuals is "more macho," it may be about membership and equality. It may also be about being reminded of your less than equal status, no matter your skill level, achievements, or size in the Martin case. I applaud Jonathan Martin's courage and maturity. He took a stance that, while initially causing him to be the subject of scorn, i.e., "how can he be bullied," we may now hopefully be forced to reflect upon.