The Seymour High School football team1, in my freshman year of 19952, got in a lot of trouble because the parent of one kid reported the hazing that her son – someone I knew, but wasn’t very good friends with – went through and wanted answers. What kind of hazing? How about softball-sized welts on his back from being whipped, while tied up, by weightlifting belts that reportedly were made wet to make them hurt more. Basically, imagine being hit by the leather part of a championship wrestling belt after it’s been sitting in water for an hour and you have an idea. That’s the kind of thing a plantation owner would do to a belligerent slave.
However, this woman and her family made one key mistake: they didn’t get anyone else on board. Other people who took that barbaric abuse didn’t back him up, and other players, upper classmen, called him out. Things only got worse from there, as the entire school, and eventually the entire town of Seymour turned against him and his family. I don’t remember specifics, but he got abused far more, and far worse, as time went on. Eventually, the family moved to Florida, and though I don’t know them personally, it’s patently obvious that they moved because their son was being abused to the point of cruelty, not just by the jocks who turned on him, but by a town that abandoned the snitch, the heretic, and the one who could have hurt the season of a team two years off a conference championship. I mean, God Damnit, we have to beat Torrington! We have to beat Torrington!!!
When I think of the barbarity of what Richie Incognito is guilty of, I think back to that 15 year old kid who was abandoned by adults because he was deemed soft by the kangaroo court of a small town who takes its football way too seriously.
”This is the male disease. It’s called, being full of shit!”
– George Carlin, When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops
The saddest part of the Richie Incognito abuse of Jonathan Martin isn’t that it pissed off a bunch of small town yokels who aren’t even blue collar enough to be called “hicks” and brought on predictably spastic responses. It’s actually been the response of people who report on, and are involved with, professional sports for their profession. Grown men who can no longer ignore the increasing cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – C.T.E., or the degenerative brain condition that effectively killed everyone from Dave Duerson (NFL) to Bob Probert (NHL) – and the pain and despair players have after their playing days due to their inability to cope with post-athletic life, and who know these players directly, talk to them, are in the locker rooms, and have celebrated a game that slowly and depressingly has killed its athletes for decades to the point where the NFL had to give a bunch of them a lot of blood money to make them go away. Some guy named J.R. Gamble made a point that the NFL “doesn’t need anymore bad publicity” while calling Martin “soft”. In fact, Martin’s “softness” is at the crux of the whole reaction. Miami’s locker room has picked a side, and it was entirely behind the man who called his teammate a “half nigger piece of shit”. Laughably, players are even saying that the white Incognito is more black than the half-black Martin – that’s a whole other issue about just what “black” is, onto itself – because of his perceived sensativity, Stanford education, and his upper middle class upbringing. It brings back memories of old Chris Rock skits.
Some former players – with Mike Golic leading the charge – have said that instead of leaving the team and telling people about the voice messages and the payments for lunches, Martin should have just punched Incognito in the mouth. Because that’s what I want in my locker room, the threat of serious injury from two men over 300 lbs. having a fistfight because one threatened to harm the other’s mother. Honestly, the whole practice is a little barbaric, especially when it’s coming from Miami’s General Manager, Jeff Ireland, the same person who once asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. The implication is simple: if you, as a paid professional athlete, are not willing to punch another athlete to write some banal wrong, then you’re worthless, or “soft”. And here I thought we had evolved past being apes.
The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.
Another sad commentary: I’m just as guilty as Richie Incognito. Maybe not to his degree, but I am far from being a pure advocate for a healthy work environment.
Really, it started in the military, or as I know it, the first time since 5th grade that I started to lose fist fights. “Clear the shop” was the universal sign that it was going to go down, and everyone would dutifully leave the room, mainly so there would be no witnesses. There were a LOT of fights, usually over something ridiculously petty; I can’t even remember the cause of most do my fights.
But when I think back, I remember how skeptically I would view people – even people in my work centre – who threatened that barbaric method of conflict resolution, because damnit, this system works for us! No one else gets what we go through, or how we do things! We address disagreements by bashing who we disagree with, because that’s how it’s done here, and if you don’t believe in that, you’re probably a sissy, or a fag! And those are bad, because they always have been!
Kind of sounds like “The Code” you hear all of these meathead players and jock sniffing writers refer to, doesn’t it?
Even now, thinking back, I can’t imagine my workcentre having the “kinder, gentler” rules that society would normally dictate on us. The same people who reversed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, fought against the cover-up attempts regarding Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and who fought for justice regarding Abu Ghraib – all great things – I would view with outright revulsion and disdain were they to do that in my work environment in the Navy, despite the knowledge that that work environment has made my civilian adjustment that much harder. I routinely get myself into hot water because I handle civilian situations – in all of my various careers – the way I would in the military short of punching someone, and yet, I still would not change a thing from my early 20s. I would not change handling situations, and being handled, in a very bad way that human beings do not act like, because I look back later and say it worked, somehow.
In short: I advocate the very practice that I am now condemning.
The poor fuck. The poor, stupid fuck.
What else is notable about what I just stated about my Neanderthalic work environment, bred from a notable athletic career and carried through in the “service” of my country, is that it doesn’t work. I say that I would resist efforts to change it, but that’s only because it’s what I know; my own environment is viewed with 20/20 vision through rose-tinted glasses, but empirical evidence suggests that I am completely and totally wrong. My own career in leadership suggests that I’m wrong; the times I have handled situations with a deft, sensitive touch – or, dare I say it, a civilian touch – it has largely turned out well. Any time I have forgotten that I left the military ten years ago, and competitive locker rooms before my service time, it’s usually led to problems. I’ve also never hazed anyone in my life. Here’s how I’ve handled newcomers, in my work career and my hockey career, especially as a referee supervisor: I’ve shook their hands, welcomed them in, and made them feel comfortable, because we all have a common job. Simply put, I don’t have time to put Icy Hot on someone’s balls; we have real work to do.
That’s why I don’t take seriously the dinosaurs and star-struck writers who talk about How Things Are Done In The National Football League. These people, simply put, don’t know any better, and even if they did at one point, their minds have been made mush by a sport that routinely sends its players to the morgue early, if they’re lucky; ask the family of Kasandra Perkins about that. I’m happy that Mike Golic and his brothers have made a very good living off of football, sending their children to very good colleges while still being lucid into their 50s, but Mike Golic has sounded like the worst kind of ex-athlete this past week: like one who doesn’t know when to let go, and lets the past grip everything about him. What worked for him in the 80s works now, because fuck evolution. Oh, another ex-player committed suicide, how sad. Now, how will Pittsburgh’s line hold up against the San Francisco pass rush!?
I’m not seeing a whole lot of deep thinking about this, or at least some self-awareness, and that’s distressing, because here’s what I really think: the people who can’t even look past the fact that Richie Incognito Was Just Toughening That Stanford Educated Pussy Up, and Jonathan Martin Is a Crybaby And A Coward Who Violated The Code, are cowards. Weak willed, weak minded followers who would do anything to be accepted by men they deemed stronger than they were at the time, and demand that same acquiescence from those behind them. In a way, these men are just jock sniffers themselves, too battered by a system they’re afraid of throwing them overboard to question anything happening around them, desperate for validation; validation from their fathers, validation from their coaches, from their teammates, and from the crowds at their games. So long as the music doesn’t stop, they smile their empty grins, and keep bashing people, friend and foe alike.
Now, please tell me again that Jonathan Martin is the coward here.
The poor fucks.
The poor, stupid fucks.
1 – It should be noted that Seymour has fallen on hard times, mainly because apparently, all of their good players were from Oxford, who eventually got their own high school.
2 – If my antipathy towards Seymour High athletics sounds like it comes from someone who went to another school and made his athletic bones outside of high school, you’re right; I went to Emmett O’Brien. And petty high school squabbles are so CUTE! Have fun arguing over Seymour v. Naugatuck, guys. I’ll be doing playoff college hockey in March.