by: Jay Sterling Silver on November 21st, 2013 | No Comments »
The reasoning behind Richie Incognito’s racist bullying of Miami Dolphin’s teammate Jonathan Martin must be fully understood before we can make any sense of the sketchy facts and conflicting opinions surrounding the story, or appreciate how the logic fails.
As the argument goes, Martin, a mild-mannered, cerebral Stanford grad, had to be “toughened up” to thrive in the heat of NFL battle. Like the verbal abuse heaped on raw recruits in boot camp to engender a fighting spirit, the anger provoked by racial derogation and talk of sodomizing Martin’s sister would, in theory, acquaint him with the fire in the belly that he needed to summon on Sundays to vanquish opposing linemen. This type of bullying, the reasoning goes, promotes the greater good – in this case, of winning football games.
The trouble with this reasoning is two fold. First, the target is non-consenting, since the strategy wouldn’t work if he was. The statement “Mr. Martin, we’ll be calling you horrible names and expressing the crudest desires with regard to your lovely family as a sort of drill, like running laps or lifting weights, so you’ll play better” would thwart the exercise.
Like the office or the plant where the rest of us labor, though, the locker room is a workplace subject to laws that protect the workforce. Certain employers and employees may yearn for the days when harassment wasn’t actionable and the workplace was as hostile as the boss chose to make it, but the legislature saw no need to carve out an exception for racist bullying or threats of violence on the offensive line any more than on the assembly line. Players’ accountsof the rough and tumble locker-room culture where “men are men” are no more morally compelling than wistful accounts of the days when women and minorities “knew their place.” And Dolphins’ head coach Joe Philbin wasn’t kidding when, asked about the locker-room harassment, he responded “I’m not concerned about any of that stuff. My focus is on [the team's next opponent] Tampa Bay.”