At NRO, Daniel Foster looks at the NFL soap opera involving the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin and his bête noire, fellow teammate Richie Incognito. If you follow the NFL even casually, you know who these two men are by now; sportswriters have banged out tens of thousands of words on them. If you don’t know who they are, Foster’s intro will quickly get you up to speed on the backstory, before Foster writes:
Acknowledging that maybe Jonathan Martin didn’t act as he should have, and that maybe he’d be better off outside the NFL than in it, is about understanding cultural pluralism, and about having a healthy wariness of attempts to level every American institution into a sedate, aggression-free trust circle of non-judgment and understanding.
Phillips affectingly writes of America as a “nation of gentle accountants and customer-service reps who’ve retained this one venue” — the National Football League — “where we can air-guitar the berserk discourse of a warrior race.” But he says that like it’s a bad thing. On the contrary, this compartmentalization and channeling of destructive impulses into less harmful endeavors — recognized in Freud’s concept of sublimation and William James’s “moral equivalent of war” — is the hallmark of a civilized people. Every institutional order needs it. The Amish need their Rumspringa, Europe needs Amsterdam, and a nation of gentle accountants needs the National Football League.
The violence and untempered masculinity of football is ritualized, highly choreographed, and controlled. There are elaborate rules and a heritable culture that prevent it from spilling into pure gladiatorial combat. It’s hardly perfect — indeed, the concussion epidemic could prove a fatal flaw — but no system is. This is the culture that enabled and even encouraged the Dolphin O-line’s hazing of Martin, and the culture that is critical of Martin for not handling this hazing “indoors.”
It might be true that Incognito went too far, but in relying on the same concept of bullying that applies to the schoolyard, and reflexively condemning any behavior that whiffs of masculine aggression, we risk holding football to a standard that was explicitly never meant for it. And it ignores that an exceptional institution requires exceptional men — that it’s no easy trick to lower the testosterone without lowering the bar.
For some contrast to the PC psychobabble that surrounds the Dolphins’ controversy, let’s flashback to how Jimmy Johnson’s 1992 Dallas Cowboys learned to survive on a daily basis with another crazed player, defensive lineman Charles Haley, who was later diagnosed as bipolar. Haley had been acquired by the Cowboys for a surprisingly low draft choice from the San Fransisco 49ers, despite helping the ‘Niners secure two Super Bowl rings, after a series of insane locker room incidents. Including what would now be described — only 20 years later — as “bullying” his fellow professional gladiators. Haley would go on to secure another three Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys, but not before attempting to test the patience of his new teammates, as Jeff Pearlman wrote in Boys Will Be Boys, his well-written and researched look at the ’90s era Super Bowl Cowboys:
In contrast to the early portion of his career, when Haley largely kept to himself, as soon as he joined the Cowboys he felt comfortable. On his first day at Valley Ranch, Haley arrived in the conference room for a defensive film session dressed only in a towel. “The next thing you know, Charles is lying naked on the floor in front of the screen, entertaining himself,” says Casillas. “Hand on his penis, back and forth.”
When Butch Davis, the defensive line coach, saw what was transpiring, he stopped the tape. “Haley!” he yelled. “Get your f***in’ clothes on and don’t come back in until you’re dressed.” The room erupted in laughter.
On his second day at Valley Ranch, Haley wrapped an Ace bandage around his penis and strolled through the locker room naked, screaming, “I’m the last naked warrior! I’m the last naked warrior!”
On his third day at Valley Ranch, Haley walked past a large hot tub in which offensive linemen Mark Stepnoski, Kevin Gogan, and John Gesek were sitting. “You know what the problem here is?” Haley yelled. “It’s another example of the white man keeping the black man down. Look at the three of you, relaxing as…”
He went on. And on. And on.
At this moment, in the infancy of the Haley Era, Gesek unlocked the key to surviving life with Charles. Instead of bowing to the barbs, instead of slinking into a mound of bubbles or turning the other cheek, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Gesek looked Haley in the eyes and said, “Who the hell are you? “You and I are gonna have to fight,” Gesek continued. “I mean, what right do you have to talk to us that way? What do you know about us? About this team? How ’bout being here for more than a week before you open your mouth?”
With that, Haley shuffled off.
“Charles liked to push buttons and test the waters,” says Kenny Gant, a Dallas safety. “He would kiss you on the mouth and say, ‘Man, I love you.’ He’d just put a big ol’ kiss on your face, waiting to see your response. I’d be like, ‘Uh, Charles, didn’t you just tell me to go f*** myself two hours ago?’”
That seems like the appropriate method for the Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin to handle Richie Incognito. And if he couldn’t push back against a fellow player on the same team, how can he stand up to the opponents who line up against him each week, itching to tear his head off, and pummel the quarterback that Martin is charged to protect.
The fact that the Incognito-Martin incident has fixated leftwing PC sports journalists almost as much as their obsession over injuries caused by the game, and over the name of the Washington Redskins is further proof, as Rush Limbaugh has taken to saying in the last couple of years, that the NFL is doomed. It’s just a matter of time.
Speaking of which, over at the Breitbart.com group blog, John Nolte offers his own take on the Dolphins’ tempest in a fish tank before noting that “Boxing Proves Media Targeting of NFL All Politics:”
Ten years ago, in the wake of 9/11, when the NFL started reading the Declaration of Independence before the Super Bowl, I knew that football had just placed a big target on its back. There was just no way in hell the left and the media were going to allow a wildly popular, culturally conservative institution that celebrates manhood, America, our troops and Darwinian competition to stand.
But if the media and left truly cared about injuries and protecting athletes from bullying and the like, they would have long ago turned their attention to boxing — a sport that is not only much more dangerous than professional football, but as openly corrupt as any institution in America (including the media).
But the media and left don’t care about boxing or boxers because that sport is nowhere near as popular or influential as the NFL, and therefore doesn’t threaten the left’s cultural hold on America.
I think that’s putting things slightly in reverse: the media left don’t need to threaten professional boxing in the same it way they do the NFL, because they’ve already finished that sport off. In its heyday, professional boxing used to be a much bigger sport than the NFL, and men like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jersey Joe Walcott were all household names, in the same way that Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick are superstars today. Once Muhammad Ali retired, and once liberal sportscasters, beginning with Howard Cosell began to turn against the sport, professional boxing lost its national allure. While it still exists on cable TV and in Vegas and Atlantic City, nobody talks about the big fight they watched the night before on television over the water-cooler the next day in the same fashion they did from TV’s infancy until Ali retired. Mike Tyson’s celebrity is as much for his strange offstage antics as whatever he accomplished in the ring (other than ear-biting incident, which further proves my point).
Quick — with Tyson retired, name a current professional boxer.
The NFL could well go this route over the next few decades. Our media culture, which responds to bullying with therapy and psychobabble and creating an ever-growing number of victims will see to that.