My first reaction to the controversy surrounding Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin was to condemn the former and to pity the latter. Regardless of how many excuses I heard from Incognito, I knew he had a violent history, so I believed that he, under these circumstances, was a bully and a racist.
In a Fox Sports interview about this bizarre case, which has seen the Dolphins suspend Incognito and Martin quit football indefinitely, Incognito says the entire episode is a misunderstanding that speaks to the “culture of our brotherhood.”
Incognito claims that using racial epithets and serious threats is the culture of NFL locker rooms. He told Fox Sports, “No matter how bad or vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate. That’s how our friendship was.” Still, Martin is gone and Incognito is suspended, awaiting the completion of a league investigation into the matter.
When I taught middle and high school students, racial comments used as friendly jibes occurred daily. Although there’s certainly no acceptable instance for this, which I always told the offenders, the slurs were always exchanged by students of the same race, which is not the case with Incognito and Martin.
This post isn’t about if and when racial epithets are okay. It’s about trying to understand what happened between to colleagues, pro football players and, seemingly, close friends.
I’m no longer ready to lay all of the blame on Richie Incognito, just as I can no longer only pity Jonathan Martin. It now appears, based on what sketchy evidence we have, that both played a role, while Dolphins management didn’t help matters.
I guess I’m still trying to comprehend what happened and how it evolved into an erupting volcano.
As the story continues to unfold, I’ll keep an open mind. How about you?
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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series
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