As the accusations, innuendo, half truths and gossip continue to flow out of South Florida regarding what may or may not have happened inside the Miami Dolphins football team, never have so many rushed to form conclusions and opinions based on so few facts.
Was offensive tackle Jonathan Martin the victim of bullying and intimidation by veteran offensive guard Richie Incognito? Maybe.
Was Martin a willing participant and possibly even responsible in his own right for a culture of machismo, crudeness to the point of vulgarity, sophomoric behavior and perhaps even racism that Incognito orchestrated and pursued in the name of fraternity and brotherhood? Maybe.
Is Incognito the victim here, just a guy who thought he was doing what was best for his teammates and friends in a locker room culture that was created generations before he found himself at the center of the storm? Maybe, but not likely.
Martin is a confused and troubled young man. That doesn’t seem to be in debate.
Incognito may or may not be guilty of some or all that he is being accused of.
But Incognito’s resume and rap sheet speak for themselves and he’s not someone I’d want anywhere near my kids.
That, however, doesn’t make him Martin’s bully.
Brandon Marshall was Incognito’s teammate in Miami in 2010 and 2011 and said of him, “I played with Richie, I enjoyed playing with Richie and I stay in contact with Richie. It was disturbing to see some of the things that were said, but I know it’s not an isolated incident and it’s kind of the culture of the NFL.”
OK Brandon, but what about Incognito’s alleged repeated use of the “N word” toward Martin, who is biracial?
“It goes both ways. We walk around saying the ‘N word’ as black players and it’s not right but we get offended when the white player says it. That’s on him, where his heart’s at, when he says it. It doesn’t make it right, but we can’t jump down the guy’s throat because he’s saying it and he’s white when the black guy’s saying it, too.”
I was truly impressed by the level of thoughtful and unbiased perspective Marshall brought to the discussion. I guess that’s why I’m not nearly as surprised or disappointed by the overwhelming support Incognito has received from his teammates while none have stepped up to speak for Martin.
In our race to be politically correct, the majority of the media and fans alike have rushed to indict Incognito as the shameful bully and Martin an innocent victim, even as more evidence emerges that it’s not at all that simple.
The most common explanation we’ve heard from Dolphin players about why they didn’t intervene or speak up on Martin’s behalf is that Martin made them feel as if he and Incognito were buddies, perhaps even best buds.
Martin regularly shared Incognito’s vulgarities with his teammates and laughed the loudest, indicating he understood the culture that allowed them and was proud to be a member.
There is never an excuse for bullying of any kind. Never.
I can’t imagine ever tolerating Incognito’s behavior aimed either at me, or anyone I cared about.
But in the completely closed circle that this behavior occurred, it is quite possible Incognito and his teammates genuinely believed it was an appropriate way to show a teammate and friend they cared, and that Martin gave them every indication he agreed.
Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and every player is there by choice. In spite of what so many of us may think, we do not have the right to decide what is always best for others.
As wrong as bullying is, like everything else in life, it does not come with a one size fits all definition.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him a firstname.lastname@example.org.