Commentary: Unsettling Undercurrents in Incognito-Martin Mess

Troubles in Miami Dolphins locker room shine a public spotlight on adult bullying.

Posted: 11/08/2013 10:43 AM EST

Lineman Richie Incognito has created a mess inside the Miami Dolphins locker room. But when you cut right down to it, surely people have to know that what’s been reported isn’t what the real story is.

For what leads a white man like Incognito to target a Black teammate with such Gone wWth the Wind racism? Even more to the point, why have Dolphins players like Mike Pouncey, Mike Wallace and Michael Egnew, all of whom are Black, sided with Incognito and not with Jonathan Martin?

So what Incognito has started can’t be about the ugliness of racism alone. Nor can it be a case of foolishness run amok or bullying just for bullying’s sake. The issue has to run deeper – deeper, probably, than the NFL, the Dolphins and sports fans want to discuss.

For in the world of professional football, a world built on machismo and an overdose of testosterone, no locker room filled with men can tolerate threats to its masculinity. The strong prey on the weak, and no athlete is weaker than one the strong view as not manly enough.

Talk to all the NFL insiders, the sports columnists who write about the league or the players who have spent years in a NFL locker room, and you sense that they know what the real issue is. They mislead us when they cite a lack of leadership; they mislead us when they point to ignorance and immaturity. They dare not hint, however, at what might be behind door No. 1.

Were the Incognito-Martin troubles bullying for a purpose (is there ever a purpose for bullying, though?), you might understand why Black teammates see more that’s wrong with the 24-year-old Martin than with Incognito. None of them would accept Incognito’s racist talk unless they, too, were looking to drive Martin out of their workplace.

They succeeded. They succeeded for the same reasons that bullies succeed in high schools or in college frats or in the streets; they succeeded because nobody backed the victim — even when the victim weighed 312 pounds, boasted a Stanford education or had parents with Harvard law degrees.

Instead, everyone who could have helped the victim stood, listened and watched. None of them came to Martin’s defense. Against this backdrop, Martin had no choice but to walk away. He could not survive in a world that allowed hate and bigots to live unchallenged.

The Richie Incognitos are too plentiful, and what they do is push around those who, no matter why, chose not to push back. Jonathan Martin didn’t come to the NFL to fistfight. He came to play football, and Incognito’s bullying should not stop Martin from playing.

But in this public case, people should not let Incognito get away with it — not the Dolphins coaching staff, not its players and not anybody else who calls himself a NFL fan.

All should demand that the team and league punish Incognito, and if they don’t, the courts should. For to do nothing to bullies like him condones their behavior, and since the millennium, Americans have made their position on bullying of any sort clear: They will not tolerate it.

Nor should the NFL.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photos: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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