I was nine years old when I was first bullied. It was pretty standard playground fare: name-calling, a little shoving, some jokes at my expense. The main perpetrator, who will remain unnamed, saw weakness in my relative tininess. I wasn’t big, so they said I wasn’t a boy. I could and did deal with their physical and verbal offenses. What I could not deal with, and what has haunted me for many years since, was the solitude of being the victim.
I can only imagine what both Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins football team, are feeling. In case you haven’t heard, Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.” “Conduct” here means Incognito’s continued harassment of Martin he apparently intended to “man up” the rookie, ultimately causing Martin to leave the Dolphins.
Responses have varied, with some calling for an end to hazing in sports and others stepping up to defend Incognito on the grounds of preserving the “culture” of the National Football League. In fact, many in the NFL actually support Incognito. For many of those who are close to the game, hazing seems to be just another custom in the NFL’s warrior culture.
What I’m trying to say is that whatever happens in an NFL locker room will probably be incomprehensible for the rest of the us, no matter how many hours of play we’ve seen. Can we really expect perfect civility from men who are encouraged to physically harm other men, whose very livelihood depends on how well they can tackle?
We, as spectators, have limited insight into the inner machinations of the NFL’s warrior culture or the athletes who participate in it because we have not experienced their lifestyle. However, when “to be a man” means to endure physical and mental anguish with a smile on your face, to stifle your emotions in the name of being “tough,” they have crossed the line. Hazing has been defended as a part of NFL life, but it cannot go unchecked. In a sport with a pattern of suicides – 11 have been recorded in the 2000s alone – a warrior culture which labels expression of emotion as “weak” can be deadly. We need to do something. The NFL needs to do something.
That’s why I am here. I’m writing to fight the hyper-masculine – more specifically, the hyper-masculinity for the sake of being “a real man.” Unfortunately, Richie Incognito doesn’t know what a “real man” is. His life has been all about being the biggest and the strongest and how to use his size and strength to flatten other boys and men. He is a warrior, but he is not a warrior for anything other than proving himself to us. It is quite sad, really. Incognito, and all bullies, engage in hazing for a reaction. Maybe Incognito doubts himself more than he doubts Martin. Maybe he’s just as much of a victim of the NFL’s warrior culture.
Still, people need to realize that hazing, a form of bullying, is never appropriate. I doubt Incognito or Martin will ever play professional football again. But what about that nine-year-old on the playground being called “girly” or “tiny?” The saga of the Miami Dolphins reaches beyond football and into the warrior culture of the United States itself. We idolize men who can fight through the pain and be a real trooper and never back down. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong.
When you are forced to win by repressing your emotions in name of “manliness,” you can only lose. What Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin teach us is that we don’t need any more warriors who fight for themselves. What we need is a warrior culture of love, peace and acceptance. Until then, we fight.
Andy Harris ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in English and political science.