A few years ago, former NFL player, Joe Ehrmann, came to UCC and spoke to us about something he called, “The 3 Myths of Masculinity.”
Myth 1 is the belief that to be a man, you have to be athletic. This myth starts early; you can see boys in kindergarten already starting to marginalize their less athletic peers.
Myth 2 is the belief that females are objects, and that they exist in order to please and gratify men.
Myth 3 is the notion that money equates with masculinity, and that high-income men are more manly than their less financially successful counterparts.
As a former professional athlete himself, Ehrmann confessed that he bought into these myths, but he challenged us to see through them in order to become what he called “men for others.” I’ll come back to Ehrmann and his “men for others” idea in a minute, but first, even if you aren’t a football fan, you may have read something about what has been going on with the Miami Dolphins.
Let me begin with a picture.
The guy on the right, number 71, is Jonathan Martin, a 6 foot 5, 300 pound graduate of Stanford University. The man on the left is Richie Incognito, another behemoth, but unlike his teammate, Incognito was dismissed from both Nebraska and Oregon Universities for disciplinary issues before landing a job in the NFL, where since joining the league several years ago, he has consistently been voted one of its dirtiest players.
Both men are in the news today because two weeks ago Jonathan Martin walked out on the Dolphins, alleging that he was a victim of harassment; the last straw broke for him when he sat down for lunch with his teammates, only to have everyone else at the table stand up and walk out, leaving him to eat in isolation. The Dolphins, who are now in major damage control mode, have started an investigation, and even though that investigation is in its early stages, they have already suspended Incognito.
Incognito, naturally, has gone on the defensive and said that as a sign of their deep friendship, Martin and he have exchanged over 1,000 texts, many of which are terribly vulgar in nature. It’s never a good sign, by the way, when you begin a press conference, as #68 did last week, by announcing to the world that you are not a racist.
So what are we to make of all of this? Is this simply the kind of he said/he said dispute that you’re more likely to find in middle school, or is there something deeper or uglier going on here?
Another shoe may drop before this is all done, but I think this case forces us to consider 3 very unpleasant truths, truths that are connected to but may go well beyond the familiar issues of race and class.
The first unpleasant truth is this: if Richie Incognito were waived by the Dolphins today, there would be a long line of teams queuing up for his services tomorrow. That’s because in the crazy and thoroughly amoral world of pro sports, talent triumphs. It is all that matters. Tiger can make a mockery of his marriage, and Mike Vick can kill dogs, but there is an Act 2 for these guys because they can play at a high level. It’s not an uplifting realization, and I wish it weren’t so, but like it or not, that is the way of the modern sports world.
Unpleasant truth number 2 is this: Jonathan Martin committed the cardinal sin of not fitting in. Martin is an intellectual. He was accepted by Harvard, a school both of his parents have graduated from, and he would have been the first 4th generation African American to go to the land of “Veritas” in Cambridge, had he not chosen Stanford, because of its more competitive football program.
Martin, by the way, is not the first intellectually oriented athlete who has struggled to fit in with his team. Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the NY Miracle Mets, used to do the NYT crossword puzzle in the dugout, but he stopped doing this, when he realized that it made his teammates uneasy. Again, this is another very unpleasant truth, but that is how things work – or at least worked — in Shea Stadium in the 60’s and 70’s.
The third unpleasant truth may be the most disturbing of all, and it’s this: All of their Miami Dolphins teammates, every last one of them, have sided with Richie Incognito. They have cast their lot with the alleged bully and sided against the alleged victim. This is mind-boggling, especially when you consider that 70% of the players in the NFL are African Americans.
Some have suggested that this goes back to the “not fitting in” issue, that because Martin was born into a privileged environment, with two highly successful professionals parents, he is not authentically black — or at least not black enough. This may sound absurd, but basketball fans may remember that Jalen Rose, a former Raptor and member of Michigan’s Fab Five, made the same kind of comment last year about Grant Hill, the great Duke star, who had the apparent misfortune of having — not just two highly successful parents but also a father who was a graduate of Yale.
The root of all of this, of course, may be a profound misunderstanding. Some believe that Dolphins’ management may actually have asked Incognito to toughen up his teammate. (By the way, the only category that Dolphins lead the league in is in giving up quarterback sacks, a stat that might fall heavily on the shoulders of offensive linemen like Incognito and Martin.) If that allegation is true, then you’ll soon read about the Dolphins’ firing their head coach and general manager, and about how they’ve reached a significant financial settlement with both players.
It is more likely, though, that Richie Incognito mistakenly believed he was just having “fun” with Martin, and had no understanding of how his behavior was affecting his teammate. If that is true, it would say something disturbing about Incognito’s emotional intelligence, but let’s face it, this is an area of growth for many of us.
Let me end this morning with a UCC story. Years ago, a wonderful UCC boy came to see me because a classmate was continually “chirping” him, and it really bothered him. He wouldn’t tell me who the verbally aggressive student was, but it got so bad that the boy eventually decided to transfer to another school. After he left, he gave me the boy’s name, and I can vividly recall my meeting with him.
I asked the Year 2 student just one question: “Do you know why I need to see you today?” He immediately looked incredibly guilt-ridden, and he burst into tears before saying, “Yes, it’s about yesterday’s French test!”
I had to tell him that, as conscientious as I’d like to be, I’m not actually tracking the daily test results of 1,150 boys. It turned out that this Grade 9 student had no idea that what he’d done had such a profound effect on another student. Through his tears he mumbled, “He’s one of my best friends. I thought he didn’t mind it when I’d bust on him.” It was a nearly perfect example of the difference between intent and perception. The Year 2 boy may have thought he was just having some fun, but clearly that’s not how his former classmate took it. And in the end, that is the perspective that we always need to take. In the end, it’s the only perspective that actually matters. “How will my words, my actions, my gestures be perceived by the other guy?”
It’s almost too easy to pick on Richie Incognito, a guy who was reportedly bullied himself as a kid, a guy who seems to embody Joe Ehrmann’s myths of masculinity. The challenge for us is to be a different kind of teammate, a different kind of guy. It’s not enough not be the aggressor or the bully. We need to be the guy who can read the situation, the guy who can understand how another might feel, the guy who will step in and step up – even in the locker room, even when all the other Dolphins are saying, “Relax. It’s all just for fun.” We need to be, what Joe Ehrmann would call “a man for others.”