Richie Incognito
Richie Incognito

The coverage of the violence Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito directed towards his teammate, offensive tackle, Jonathan Martin has been problematic in the way that it questions Martin’s masculinity. Martin left the team due to the emotional stress of having received voicemails, such as this one, from Incognito:

“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of [expletive] . . . I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. [I want to] [expletive] in your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face (laughter). [Expletive] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

Reportedly, another teammate threatened Martin’s sister:

‘We are going to run train on your sister. . . . She loves me. I am going to f–k her without a condom and c– in her c—,’

In addition, Martin surrendered $15,000 to Incognito for an unofficial team trip to Las Vegas that did not include him. Given this history, when Martin sat down for lunch and all of his teammates left the table, Martin decided that that would be his final day with the Dolphins.

Bullying provides the general frame for this vile story, but that term does not seem appropriate here. Bullying conjures the actions of school children and adolescents viciously accosting one of their peers. Using this term to describe Incognito’s behavior makes his actions appear childish and thus Martin’s response becomes overly dramatic; like a woman’s response. Even though I find Lawrence Taylor to be disreputable, his place in the Football Hall of Fame makes his opinions credible for some sports journalists, commentators, and fans. Taylor’s public comments questioned Martin’s toughness for a sport like football when he remarked, “if you’re that sensitive and weak-minded, then find another profession.” The conversation on NPR’s Tell Me More explicitly questions Martin’s masculinity through a segment of the show called “The Barbershop” that features Michel Martin discussing current issues with a pretty consistent group of male journalists. “Should Jonathan Martin ‘Man Up’ Or ‘Leave it on the Field” identifies the title of their discussion on the offensive tackle’s departure.

I will accept the term harassment to describe the violence Martin experienced in the locker room, on Twitter, and through voicemail but I think terrorism is an even better term. The ferocity of the racist and sexist violence that characterizes Martin’s experience with his teammates doesn’t recall a scene on the playground where you have a chance of coming out alive, but instead recalls the spectacle of a lynching. This notion that Martin could “man up” and defeat a mob of people determined to harm him is unreasonable (unless the expectation is that Martin should unleash the black beast within). Martin did exactly what a free man can and should do: he got away from the mob.

In his first public comments to Fox Sports after being suspended from the Dolphins for “actions detrimental to the team,” Incognito claims to be Martin’s best friend on the team. He further contends that his messages to Martin did not emerge from spite, he claims:

I can just sit here and be accountable for my actions. And my actions were coming from a place of love. No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate, that’s how our friendship was, and those are the facts, and that’s what I’m accountable for.

Terrorism is not an act of love. I never did understand the title of Eric Lott’s book Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Defining racism as love reflects its pathology. Blackface Minstrelsy mocked black humanity and suffering. I can’t find the love in that spectacle. Neither can I find the love in Incognito calling Martin “a half nigga piece of shit.” According to Incognito, “nigga” and other derogatory terms get thrown around the locker room constantly. Apparently, Incognito’s African American teammates support his claim that he is not racist and that his use of the term was cool with them. No one ever seems to question the authority white people seek from black people in asking if it is acceptable to degrade blackness. Over the years, I’ve read stories where coaches and teachers defend the decision to use the term “nigga” because they got sanction from their players or their students. Players do not have the authority to determine practice or game schedules and students do not have the authority to design and grade their own tests but when it comes to whether or not a white person can use the term “nigga,” all of sudden that authority rests in the hands of black people? It bothers me that those foolish Dolphins’ players don’t understand the problem with a white person asking them if it is acceptable to degrade them. It also bothers me that black culture gets very little acknowledgement for what it has offered American culture in terms of culture, morals, and values but when it comes to using the word “nigga,” because black people use that term, it is somehow a model that everyone should follow; it’s just absurd.

Lawrence Taylor was partly right when he said that Martin was “sensitive.” I see Martin as someone “sensitive” to history; as someone who then understands that “the only good nigga, is a dead nigga,” so he got the hell up outta there and good for him.