Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Brief Comments on the Incognito/Martin Story

Three brief comments on the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying story.

1. Why is the lede of ESPN's current article about this story using a phrase like "accusations of harassment and misconduct toward teammate Jonathan Martin" when there is hard evidence in the form of an incriminating and offensive voicemail -- a story which ESPN broke -- along with an electronic history of harassment via Twitter? Some of the harassment is merely alleged, and the article later makes reference to the existence of the voicemail, but it misstates the general principle: e.g. Incognito inarguably bullied Martin. Plus, in giving a voice to Incognito, who in classic persecution-complex fashion is trying to "weather the storm," ESPN is lending credence to the persistent idea that Incognito is the one wronged and Martin is just a baby. Martin, who has essentially gone AWOL since the start of the story, is not quoted (nor does the article mention if he was contacted or not).

This couched language may be a matter of company policy (or AP style, I'm not sure), but it's pseudo-honest journalism that actually may be more dishonest.

2. That article, whose lede is about Incognito and not Martin, also alludes to an allegation attributed to the Sun Sentinel that "Dolphins coaches asked Incognito to toughen Martin up this past spring, after Martin missed a voluntary team workout" and that Incognito simply took this campaign of intimidation too far. The Dolphins are cooperating with an NFL investigation into this story but it throws the hypocrisies of the NFL sharply into the foreground. Last year, Roger Goodell pursued and suspended Sean Payton for an entire season for overseeing a program that incentivized putting opposing players in harm's way. Physical and mental health should not be held in such different regard, and neither should the fact that this harm was directed at a teammate. I highly doubt Philbin is penalized, primarily because he can plausibly claim that he was unaware of the bullying going on, but the contrast is illuminating. 

3. The most frequent of criticisms -- that Martin is weak/should man up/some other euphemism implying he has female genitalia and that people in the media simply don't understand NFL team culture -- seems backward to me. Some forms of hazing can foster camaraderie, but this story is not about Martin not being able to suck it up and put on a costume. It's a story of consistent abuse, with the added element of power/superiority as Incognito is Martin's senior in the league. Martin may be more sensitive than most, but it seems to me at least the Incognito is the one who doesn't understand team culture.