Thoughts on the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin Saga

Racism; blame; weakness; bullying and hazing–terms with which you are familiar if you know anything […]

Matt Patrick / 11.13.13

both of them

Racism; blame; weakness; bullying and hazing–terms with which you are familiar if you know anything about the recent story concerning Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. For the past couple of weeks, this story has absolutely dominated sports news networks, reporting recent developments and consequent commentary. First the focus was strictly on the vulgar text messages sent by Incognito to Martin, which lead to the discussion concerning “locker room culture” in the NFL as well as on the college and high school athletic levels. Various Dolphins players have answered questions about Incognito and Martin, and both Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross have offered their thoughts and conclusions as well. Point being, there has been lots of discussion.

This is a very complicated story to write about. It’s nuanced and detailed. And it addresses touchy issues that are quite frankly difficult to talk about (or maybe they just hit too close to home). There have been very different tones/approaches in addressing this case: those who seek to defend the so-called “locker room” /”hazing” culture as something so utterly different from the rest of the world, that this instance of bullying should be excused; there are those–namely, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross-who propose that Jonathan Martin should punch Richie Incognito in the face for the abusive texts/language; and then there are those who pin Jonathan Martin as a weakling, particularly for ratting out his teammate and walking away from football this season.

The last thing I want to do in this article is blame one person or perspective concerning the Incognito/Martin saga. I do, however, want to point out (and admit t0) a few vantage points that I believe to be the antithesis to the Christian message.

rocky ivRichie Incognito is easy to hate, and if you’ve read the text he sent Martin, you know exactly what I mean. Incognito has a track record for a bit of a thug, to be sure. As I listened to this story break a couple of weeks ago on the way to work, I cringed. In fact, if I had the chance, I would urge Martin to punch Incognito out the next chance he got. While this story’s developments made me hate injustice in a real way, I have to admit that it also made me view Richie Incognito in a unhealthy way, as if I weren’t capable of the same caliber of wrongdoing. I crossed the line from merely wishing the world weren’t so broken–hating that someone could be talked to in such a dehumanizing manner–to pointing out the sin “out there” and in “the world”. It’s easy to do that, but that’s simply not helpful on a number of levels.

On the other hand, Jonathan Martin is also easy to be frustrated with. Even though he received lord knows how much verbal abuse, he quit. In a sports world where hazing in the locker room is accepted and/or ignored, shouldn’t Martin have just “taken one for the team” and sucked it up? After all, with football being a sport that fosters self-sacrificial all-in-this-together sentiments, isn’t Martin’s decision to give up a sign of weakness? Some people think so, including me. I found myself being fairly displeased with hearing about Martin’s departure from the Dolphins. Perhaps I was most vexed that Martin sought help, or at least the theologian of Glory in me was.

Indeed, we all hate injustice. And we also love to point it out in a way that suppresses/ignores the “planks” in our own eye, if you will. Likewise, we don’t like asking for help. We love Rocky narratives, not Jonathan Martin narratives. Thankfully, God is gracious, and loves. For his grace extends to the sinner “out there,” and to those who quit, and to you and me for pointing our fingers at them.