When news first broke that disgruntled offensive lineman Jonathan Martin had left the Miami Dolphins amid claims he was bulled by Richie Incognito and other teammates, the media and fans alike were quick to label Incognito a horrible human being.
Months later, when Incognito’s reps released text messages that were exchanged between Incognito and Martin, many backtracked on those claims,\ seeing as though Martin was compliant in many of the pranks that transpired along the offensive line and used the same vulgar language that painted such a grim picture of Incognito.
With the Ted Wells report being released late last week, the narrative has once again shifted to the bashing of Incognito. And that line of thinking is certainly justified in many regards. The report documents a pattern of behavior by Incognito that was vile and over the line.
But what if it’s not that simple? What if the situation was the perfect storm of several underlying issues?
First off, the notion that what happened in the Dolphins’ locker room was unprecedented is naive. The behavior of Incognito along with John Jerry and Mike Pouncey was nefarious, but it wasn’t abnormal — not on a football team. Not among a group of men who feel insecure when attempting to fall in line with a misguided view of masculinity. It’s easy to blame Incognito exclusively for what happened, but in reality the issue is far more complex.
It’s also easy to say that Martin didn’t handle the situation appropriately. He’s a large man, after all, who is capable of standing up for himself. According to the report, he never physically confronted Incognito or voiced his displeasure of the antics. He didn’t speak with head coach Joe Philbin about the issue either.
Instead, he laughed off many of the jokes and played along when it came to picking on other teammates. That wasn’t a recipe for change; it only insured that the activity would continue. Criticizing Martin is a logical reaction, but in reality, doing the right thing would have been far more challenging than those skeptical of him can fathom. Especially when it pertains to falling in line with the aforementioned false sense of masculinity — particularly, the thinking that “snitching” or admitting emotional distress ultimately detracts from one’s standing as a man.
That brings us to the root of the problem: insecurity. Incognito, with his homophobic and racist jokes and his reported harassment of Martin, revealed himself as an incredibly insecure individual. I’m guessing that he didn’t incessantly poke fun at the strong-willed members of the Dolphins’ locker room. Like in most cases of bullying, he picked on someone who was reluctant to fight back.
While outrage is an understandable response, perhaps sympathy for Incognito is also in order. Not in defense of his actions but in empathy for Incognito and like-minded individuals who so misconstrue what being a man means that they resort to profane behavior to mask their feelings of inadequacy.
And while many Dolphins fans are obviously frustrated with Martin in how he handled everything, embarrassing the organization by going public with his displeasure instead of addressing the issue internally, no one should feel anything but compassion for him. The report, if accurate, details a young man who felt trapped by his feelings of depression and had a breakdown of sorts when those feelings became too much to bare.
Perhaps Martin’s struggles on the field and the emotional baggage he possessed long before he was drafted by the Dolphins played a more significant role than what the report implies. But his issues were still prevalent, and nobody can say with any certainty how they would have handled a similar situation.
What happened inside the Dolphins’ locker room may have been a perfect storm of extreme hazing that was derived from insecurity to a player who wasn’t equipped to handle it thanks to insecurities of his own. Similar behavior undoubtedly happens on many teams and in many sports, but it took individuals like Incognito and Martin to bring it to light.
The debacle can’t just be pinned on Incognito. It can’t just be pinned on Martin either. It was one ugly outcome of what insecurity and an erroneous view of masculinity can lead to. The same issues run rampant in society — not just with two members of the Dolphins.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.