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The Hidden Damages of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin

Richie Incognito (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Miami Dolphins just went changed their colors from orange and teal to perhaps the only certifiably uglier color combination of black and white. In lieu of guard Richie Incognito’s voicemail left for Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins have suspended Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team; just days after Martin left the team for undisclosed reasons and the team placed him on the non-football-related illness list.

This incident has, of course, already begun to spawn the thinkpieces and hand-wringing we expect from the media. This incident will inevitably be placed into a larger context and will be used as a reason to examine everything from the mentality of football players and the culture of a locker room to race relations in America.

People will ask, “How could this have happened?” People will point fingers. People will question the culture in which this happened. These are all reasonable reactions. These are also the knee-jerk reactions we expect from the media when incidents like this occur. (Feel free to Google Riley Cooper and Luis Suarez among others if you really need a reminder.)

Here is the real problem though: Everyone will start to fight. The people who want to blame the Dolphins will call people blaming the entire NFL reactionaries. The people who blame our entire culture will call the people limiting their view to the world of sports myopic. People who think this is a non-issue will call everyone offended by this overly sensitive. People who are offended by this will call those who see this as a non-issue racists. Eventually someone will be compared to Hitler and all rational discussion will be thrown out of the window.

This story cannot be reduced into the kind of cause and effect story that we like to hear. This story represents the intersection of two incredibly deep-rooted tendencies among us that we would mostly prefer to sweep under the rug. We have the combustible element of hyper-masculinity colliding with the fire of racism in America, and we have this collision occurring in the world of sports. How could this have happened? The better question: How could this not have happened? The best question: How often is this occurring and it goes unreported? I have the distinct feeling, and I am sure I am not alone, that this is far from an isolated incident. Are we all blind enough to believe that these grown men who we idolize for their aggression can simply leave that aggression on the field; that it simply stops when the game ends?

In the Incognito-Martin incident, we see the two negative side effects of this aggression at work. The first negative side effect is the obvious one. The aggression we expect on the field does not end when the games does. We see this in Brandon Marshall’s alleged domestic violence or the Aldon Smith’s stabbing incident. This is the manifest side effect, the obvious one. The latent side effect is the one of the victim, in this case Martin. This aggression also teaches the victim to hide the pain caused by the aggressor. It teaches the victim that this is all “part of the game.” It teaches the victim that, just as you should get up after being leveled by a linebacker, you should get up from commensurate emotional pain. We are in the nascent stages of enlightenment about the long-term physical damages of the game of football.

Hopefully, an incident like this can have at least one benefit: To begin our awakening to the mental damages of the game of football.

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