The phalanx of attack on Jonathan Martin from the NFL players and in blog sphere should not surprise anyone. The blog sphere attacks are predictable given football fans’ rabid sense of what is required to be manly and violent and solve problems with violence—that’s the game right? The players have closed ranks to defend bounties and headhunters and resist safety measures, why should this be different? I think, however, that Martin leaving is not about cowards, weakness or manhood. It represents a deeply human response to the soul degrading costs of daily acting like someone you are not just to fit in.
Imagine you’re fairly thoughtful, well educated and a superb professional. You get your first major job on the basis of your skill and intelligence. Joining the team you want to excel at your job and join into the culture. Makes sense, and most successful professionals face the dual task of professional achievement and fitting into their organization’s culture.
Imagine the culture reveals aspects you did not expect. You expect and understand most of it given the territory of, say that of an all male locker room of 23-32 year old hyper competitive and athletic males. You go along with the banter, the pushing and shoving, testing and challenging because you understand it and have done it before. You can even deal with some of the hazing. Given the dominance of African American players on the team, you might even be comfortable with the casual use of racist terms that carry sting and humor at the same time.
The point here is that you want to fit in and work hard to try to fit into the culture. I remember going into army basic training. The level of profanity and sheer brutal pushing, shoving, ribbing and insulting and testing stunned and aggravated me.
But I went along. I used the F word endless times. I used racist and sexist language and jokes. I laughed at crude and mean jokes and pissed in the wind and watched “smokers” and yelled out sexist and ugly comments. I went along because this was my unit and my team and we could go to war together. It felt wrong and ate at me but I did it to get along.
I went along but got really tired of it especially the endless mean testing. I got really tired of it. It took hard work to endure and pretend and go along with things I hated just to be a part of the unit.
I remember in basic watching us push and test each other constantly. We threw epithets around and joked bordering on fighting. I also remember playing “painted bird” with several “weak” guys. The whole unit, me included, ganged up on them. They could not quite make the grade physically or mentally. They got teased, then pushed and shoved. Then they got persecuted until two had to leave the unit. The sergeants tolerated this picking on a scapegoat because it brought the rest of us together in our own superiority as we hounded the weak and different ones.
I believe Jonathan Martin confronted these challenges.
I think he went along with the unit’s norms to stay part of the team. I believe that he went along with the teasing and joking and testing and even meanness because some of it he was used to. But in the end he wanted to get along.
But I cannot conceive of facing this day in and day out from "his friend" Richie Incognito:
Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] shit in your fucking mouth. [I'm going to] slap your fucking mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you
He did not want to be a snitch. So he played along and used some of the same language even if he did not like doing it; even if he just hated hearing the racist insults to himself and his family. The texts will show this and people will say he accepted it.
No he went along with it because he felt he had to and if he did not the gang who are gathering to protect the racist taunting of Richie Incognito would ostracize him and not cover his back on the field.
I think he just had enough.
He did want a sane and thoughtful man would do facing a cruel and mean and ugly culture. It’s a culture where the union is more interested in protecting the persecutors than the abused.
He had enough and he walked and he should have.