So far, most of the public, on-the-record commentary from NFL players on the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin ordeal has fallen short of thoughtful self-examination. It has been a lot of taking sides in a dispute between two specific men and not a lot of seeing the situation as an abstraction that helps explain bigger ideas.
Then Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall started talking.
“Look at it from this standpoint,” Marshall told the Chicago Tribune. “Take a little boy and a little girl. A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off. You’ll be OK. Don’t cry.’ A little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, to not show their emotions. And it’s that times 100 with football players. You can’t show that you’re hurt, can’t show any pain. So for a guy to come into the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, that’s a problem.”
You’ve heard the story by now: Martin is a young offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins who felt bullied by Incognito, a guard, and eventually left the team. The ever-emerging details are shocking, but they have raised questions about just how rare this sort of thing is, anyway.
“I also know it’s not an isolated incident,” Marshall said. “It’s unfortunately the culture of the NFL.”
The Dolphins’ behavior and its consequences are, of course, on the extreme end of what most people think of as “hazing,” but Marshall seems less interested in the gory details between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin than he is with the social norms that made it possible.
“What’s going on in Miami goes on in every locker room. But it’s time for us to start talking.,” he said. “Maybe have some group sessions where guys sit down and maybe talk about what’s going on off the field or what’s going on in the building and not mask everything. Because the longer it goes untreated, the worse it gets.”