- Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer
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Coaches love players like Incognito. They look at guys like Martin, known as soft-spoken and thoughtful while at Stanford, with skepticism. Does he have the killer instinct? Does he care enough? Those questions don't apply to Incognito. Coaches might not want to see him after hours, but they love him on the field. He's indispensable, a tone-setter, the guy who announces your team's presence with a crazed, through-the-whistle style that is prized at every level.
Coaches chuckle among themselves: He might be a horrible human being, but he's our horrible human being. Sociopathic behavior from players at certain positions is not only tolerated but cherished. As long as it stays out of the headlines and the police blotters -- in other words, as long as it's kept in-house -- it provides the kind of toughness you need to compete.
Yes, this is America's game.
Own it. Even now, even after the extent of Incognito's viciousness has been revealed through voice mails and texts to Martin, there are NFL personnel people telling reporters, like Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter, that it's a man's game and Martin failed to handle it like a man. According to these unnamed men, Martin should have manned up and handled the situation face-to-face, with his fists if necessary.
You know -- like a man.
Seriously, though, did these men's men read the things Incognito reportedly said to Martin? Don't we encourage people not to deal with the deranged, to let the professionals handle it? Does anyone believe Incognito would be cowed by a confrontation?
To blame Martin is to ignore reality and uphold the twisted norms of the misguided subculture that allowed this type of environment to persist and -- dare we say -- thrive. It's also a willful refusal to connect the threat of violence to the reality of our gun-soaked, disrespect-me-and-pay-the-price ethos that has people like Aaron Hernandez sitting in jail.
Martin should be praised for walking away and letting the Dolphins sit amid the fetid steam of Incognito's behavior. Speaking of Martin, Bart Scott told Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco on ESPN New York, "Thank God he walked away. They've got to be thankful he didn't bring a gun to work."
It's soul-crushing to see how many situations in football cause people to break out the "wussification of America" card, as if being swindled and harassed and threatened is just part of the NFL workplace, the price you pay for having a job that too many American males look upon as the pinnacle of human achievement. If you can't hack having your mother threatened and your race demeaned and your well being threatened, you know, move aside for someone who can.
Incognito has spoken about being bullied as a kid, and bullies tend to be people who were bullied, the same way many sexual abusers were once abused themselves. And to guys like Incognito, guys like Martin can be seen as a threat. They don't dive headlong into the culture, and they give off a vibe of being able to get along just fine without it. This isn't an unusual trait among many oversized NFL offensive linemen. Often they're the most introspective and intelligent members of a team, and in many cases they're playing because their bodies have always dictated they play. Where else can an enormous, overweight young man profit enormously from that type of body?
To a fighter and scrapper and do-anything-to-stay-in-the-league guy like Incognito, that can be intimidating.
It's instructive to note how this story morphed from a tale of one power imbalance to another. It started with talk of extortion -- rookies being forced to pay $30,000 for a team dinner and Martin paying $15,000 for a Vegas trip he didn't even take part in -- to one of racism and viciousness and vile threats. Also instructive to note: how Incognito went from a bullying Twitter rant professing his innocence -- give the man this much: he stays in the same gear -- to radio silence after the revelation that Martin saved voice mails and text messages.
Still, they're connected by the ligaments of the subculture: If you can get away with forcing someone else to pay for your trip to Las Vegas, you probably think you can get away with anything.
It's a dynamic that happens to some degree in every sport, at every level, with both sexes. There's always non-Incognito-level hazing and teasing and there's always a self-professed team cop who takes things too seriously, receives positive reinforcement from the coaches and ends up drunk on his or her own power. When psychological issues enter the mix, as appears to be the case in Miami, an annoyance becomes a menace. It's not just sports -- fraternities and sororities and clubs are sick with this type of behavior.
Of course, the aberrant behavior ascribed to Incognito is far more prevalent among men. In short, anywhere young men are put in charge of themselves, idiocy and bullying has the opportunity to flourish. It's why the military relies on young men to do the things that need to be done, and it's also why older men are put in charge of them.
The Dolphins' situation appears to be a systemic breakdown, with the older men at the top unable -- or unwilling -- to police the younger men below.
Either that or a small part of them thought Martin was getting what he deserved, that Incognito was simply taking care of business, making sure the culture gets what the culture demands.