National Football League
Race isn't something that is bestowed
National Football League

Race isn't something that is bestowed

Published Nov. 7, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

Like most everyone, I’ve been following the story coming out of the Miami Dolphins locker room these past several days with a certain interest as to what constitutes adult bullying.

Most reasonable people agree that Richie Incognito crossed and erased the line between harmless NFL rookie initiations and outright harassment in his dealings with teammate Jonathan Martin.

I can’t think of a scenario where anyone expresses to a coworker the desire to “s--- in your f------ mouth,” “and slap your real mother across the face,” topped off with “I’ll kill you,” sans consequence. Especially once the recipient of such pleasantries complains to the boss.

I concede that being a NFL lineman is not the same as being a schoolteacher or a banker, and it is a unique workplace, but let’s not fictionalize NFL locker rooms to the point where we lead anyone to think the normal bounds of human decency don’t apply within those walls.


There is more than a subtle difference between sticking guys with an excessive dinner check and using them as human ATMs. Or the embarrassment that comes from being saddled with an ugly haircut for the summer and the humiliation that comes from being called a “half n---- piece of s--t.” Again, reasonable people understand this.

What struck me Wednesday, however, is the building chorus coming from the Dolphins locker room in defense of Incognito. It is clear they want us all to know that despite his use of the “n-word”, their embattled teammate is not a racist. And in the absence of other facts, I am willing to give Incognito the benefit of the doubt on that issue.

Of greater concern to me is the revelation via a former Dolphins player to Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero that black Dolphins players have handed out a “honorary black” designation to Incognito.

I suppose the honor comes with benefits like using the n-word without fear of repercussion, while assuming none of the risks like being subjected to pesky stop and frisk procedures by law enforcement. But, I digress …

Another former Dolphins employee indicated that Jonathan Martin’s Stanford education and personal background as the son of two highly educated parents, along with the way he “carried himself,” made Martin seem “soft” and less accepted by his black teammates in particular. After conversations with multiple people familiar with the dynamics inside Miami’s locker room, Salguero wrote, “Martin was considered less black than Incognito.”


This notion that a black person who talks a certain way or who is educated beyond that of his or her peers is somehow “less black” is not novel. It stretches far back to the days of slavery when “Field Negroes” were pitted against “House Negroes” as a way to divide and conquer the race and keep the inequitable system unchallenged and in place.

Today, it keeps countless young black children from reaching their highest aspirations and potential out of fear of being ostracized by friends. I am not surprised these age-old misconceptions are alive and well inside a NFL locker room. Yet, I am surprised by the new twist.

Described as "cerebral" and "studious," I imagine Jonathan Martin has encountered the idea before that he was “less black” sometime over the course of his life. I bet this is the first time he finds himself positioned as such against a white teammate with highly questionable motivational skills, however.

The alleged victim of bullying remains in self-exile in California while honorary blackness has been bestowed upon his alleged bully who has been suspended by the team indefinitely and who, by all accounts, is missed dearly by everyone in the locker room.

I’d like to see one of Martin’s fellow black teammates stand up and unequivocally defend him now in ways they wouldn’t because they didn’t want to, or couldn’t because they were unaware of the full effect the behavior was having on Martin when he was still among them.

I’d like to see Martin build or reclaim the confidence and self-esteem needed that would have allowed him to stand up for himself sooner instead of seemingly, going along to get along.

Lastly, I’d like to have Incognito’s honorary membership revoked.

Rebkah Howard is a non-practicing attorney and sports publicist. You can find her on Twitter @pink_funk and on


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