Having been relatively close to Miami Dolphins territory the last couple of days, it was hard to get away from the whole Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin fiasco. I admit, it was kind of nice seeing a team besides the Buccaneers be the state’s NFL dumpster fire for a change. But whereas with the Bucs things were pretty much cut-and-dried — there definitely was MRSA in the locker room, Josh Freeman definitely had regressed, Greg Schiano is definitely on the hot seat — the Miami situation has two sides to it. One that thinks what Martin went through shouldn’t have happened, and another that seems to be saying, “Hey, that’s football.”
Driving home last night, I heard one sports talk host decry the fact that we’ve turned into such a nation of sissies, a nation of people who can’t take care of themselves, that, instead of standing up to Incognito like a wimpy kid in an after school special, Martin went crying to the league to solve his problems for him. I’ve heard Martin told to “be a man,” to fight his own battles, and there are current and former NFL players who seem more upset that Martin has broken some sort of tough guy code than the fact that Incognito was dropping N-bombs on him and threatening to kill him. Not surprising from a bunch of guys who’d gladly lie about a concussion in order to get back into a game.
Thing is, the problem isn’t that we’ve become too soft. It’s just the opposite. We’ve bought into the John Wayne myth that the only way to solve anything is to be the biggest baddest dude on the block. Forget about choosing your battles or turning the other cheek; each and every affront must be met, and met hard, or else the oppressor will just keep doing it. Because we all know every bully in the world just needs one person to stand up to them for the clouds to lift and for them to realize the error of their ways. There’s no chance they’d escalate their bullying, no chance they’d vow to make things worse for the person who’d dared to call them out. No, if you don’t punch that bully in the nose, you’re just as bad, if not worse, than they are.
Of course, no one seems to argue for eliminating the bullying behavior, for telling those who engage in it that they are wrong. It’s the responsibility of those who fall victim to it to become stronger, to grow and learn from it, while the bully is allowed to go on being the same muscle-headed jerk they’ve always been. And while you might have your big moment and stand up to them and buy yourself some relief, that doesn’t stop the bully from moving on to the next victim. Who might not have your resolve. But they shouldn’t be expected to. Not everyone has it in them to make that stand. And they shouldn’t be consigned to abuse if they can’t summon it. Or called a coward if they seek out help.
None of us have any business judging Martin for deciding his best course of action in dealing with this situation was to remove himself from it and seek the various forms of recourse available to him. What he did isn’t some referendum on our nation’s fortitude, or some example of the frailty of asking for help. We should attach no shame to admitting things are out of control and that you can’t handle it alone. Because the real strength of a society isn’t in the closed fist hurled at its enemies. It’s in the open hand extended to its own people who need help.