Do You Have To Be A Jerk To Be Tough?


A lot of buzz right now around the Miami Dolphins story about Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and bullying and racism and football culture and the perceived need for every player to be a badass and is Incognito a cretin or is Martin a sissy or are they both in the .1% on opposite ends of the human personality scale…..

There are a couple of things about this that make me scream at the radio or the screen or the page.

One is the comparison of the NFL to the US Military.  This is an insult to the US Military.

I heard one analogy that Incognito was just “trying to toughen the guy up” like they did in the movie A Few Good Men… that Martin just needed to “man up” because that’s what you do if you are a team of Navy Seals or the Miami Dolphins.   Shut up.

We are talking about FOOTBALL… not fighting terrorism.  Let’s not pretend that the NFL or any level of sports is that important.

Then there are the media dorks and anybody else who rails on about how it would never happen on their watch… or why didn’t somebody step in and help Martin... or how can this kind of thing happen?  Look in the mirror.  Do you even cringe when somebody tells a racist joke?  Do you say a word when the moron in the next cubicle spouts off about what he (as a “real” man) would do to the secretary or how “none of that bullying crap would go down if I was around.”  Whatever.  Mob mentality rules even when the mob is just two or three or four, let alone a football team.

Everybody is strong and willing to stand up for the victim until the time actually comes.

In a bullying situation I would HOPE that people would do the right thing. I would HOPE that I would.  But I wouldn’t.  Because in most cases I am as much as a go-along to get-along guy as much as the next guy.  I have been there and failed.  So have you. That is how these things happen.


I played baseball with a guy in high school who was big on hazing… some little things like carrying the older guys'  bags or being the last in line for everything… and some bigger, grosser things I’d like to forget.  And to that guy I say, #$%* you.  It’s stupid.  There are better ways to build a team.

The teammates and co-workers and bosses I admire are tough.  They know they are tough.  They don’t have to beat down others to show they are tough.  They are tough in a way that Richie Incognito has apparently never thought of.  They are good people at the core.  They have respect for everybody on their team and in their family and in their life.  They are not the false heroes we tend to glorify way too often in sports.

There should be no time or tolerance for the offensive lineman who calls his teammate and leaves a racist, threatening message… or the coach that screams at a player an inch away from his face… or the 14 year old girl who sends a group text talking about how ugly and stupid and horrible that girl in her Spanish class is.

In the Dolphins case… or any other locker room situation… of course there is room for pranks and keeping guys in line.  But it’s a fine line.

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway put it this way in an interview with USA Today:  "I think 'bullying' is strongly overused at every age in this country, starting at my 6-year-old. People are just rude. People are mean. I wouldn't call it bullying. I think it's just being ridiculous. But as a grown man, it's more of a brotherhood, ball-busting mentality than I think we're directly coming at somebody."

True.  We bust balls with the guys we like (and respect) the most.  I love hanging with my boys and throwing insults back and forth.  In that case it is a sign of camaraderie and friendship.  And we cross the line at times.  But until you get to that point of doing it in the manor of  love and brotherhood, you cannot do it in a way that intimidates or demeans another person… especially in a team or professional setting.

I also understand that we are all hypocrites for loving to watch a brutal sport played by guys who have to be tough and then hating the guys who have to be tough when they act like the barbarians we love them to be.

But then again, tough and sociopathic are not the same thing.

I don’t know.

Maybe Martin is too “soft” to play in the NFL, but at least let him fail on his own. And maybe with his unique set of “skills” Incognito will land a job with the mob or in pro wrestling or on MTV.  Good luck.