Kudos (well, partial kudos, which I’ll explain at the end) to the NFL Network and Fox Sports for both candidly addressing the situation with Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, particularly in regards to the potential racism involved. I always require facts, by the way. That’s how we roll at Hollywood 27 and at The Walk a Mile Project.
If you’re not yet familiar with the Martin-Incognito situation, feel free to scroll to the bottom of the post and read the exact facts I’m addressing here.
I must say right off the bat that I’m a little bit in awe from all of the backlash Sunday’s media coverage is receiving. We apparently live in a world, at least media-wise, where the only way some writers/bloggers/journalists know how to talk nowadays is to rip other writers/bloggers/journalists to shreds, and to start ridiculous and overblown wars of words, among other unproductive nonsense (just google “glazer incognito” and you’ll easily find examples of the hate fest).
If you want to give your opinion based on facts, that’s fine. Supply the facts and calmly speak your piece. All this hate-spewing and insanity, especially in situations where we aren’t privy to much in the way of facts anyway, hurts our efforts folks – it doesn’t help.
I won’t sit here and rip anyone else, as that would make me just as guilty. It’s worth making the point though, because this kind of overblown reaction that brushes reason under the carpet in favor of emotional rants is exactly why I started The Walk a Mile Project in the first place. Tune in there anytime if you’re interested in following the voice of reason and learning the truth without all the ranting, but I digress to the topic at hand…
So earlier Sunday morning, on the NFL Network, Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk started off their discussion with Michael Silver by addressing the suggestion that Richie Incognito was granted “honorary black man” status within the Miami Dolphins locker room.
Silver asked Marshall if, even in light of that supposed status, it’s ever okay to use the “N” word like Richie did. Marshall responded with a laugh and a succinct “Never. Never.”
He then elaborated on the effort that he’s made over the years to eradicate use of the word altogether, including confronting his own children when they’ve used it. “It’s a word that we need to just get rid of… Even if you are the same race, it’s a word that should not be used.”
But it’s there, and in some areas, it’s everywhere. As Michael commented, “It is rampant in our music. It’s almost as if we want to get a choice of who can and can’t say it.”
Unfortunately this is the same discussion we’ve been having for 20+ years now. Marshall Faulk puts forth the argument that I’m mostly a proponent of, which is to get rid of the age-old word – but that’s a long, long road that may never reach its end because words are still just words, and we’re free to say whatever we want in America, regardless of how ignorant the words may be.
It’s certainly the idealistic path, however, no doubt about that.
Then there’s the rather unique idea that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino first put forth when he filmed Pulp Fiction. “Any word that has that much power should be de-powered,” he said. Tarantino claimed that using such a loaded word frequently and almost randomly (he called white characters the N-word almost as much as black ones) was his attempt at defusing the word’s power.
“[It’s] probably the most volatile word in the English language. My feeling is that any time a word is that powerful, you should start screaming it from the rooftops, take away that power.”
Of course, the big problem with Quentin’s concept is that anytime someone utters the word with malicious intent, the power quickly returns. We would need to move significantly past that word’s stigma before Tarantino’s idea could really hold water, which pretty much makes it a full-blown catch-22.
Quentin actually stopped using the word in his films, for the most part, after Jackie Brown, apparently feeling that his own reasoning held no weight. Then in 2012 he released Django Unchained, which used the N-word over 100 times, and brought a fresh wave of anger down upon him from many folks unappreciative of its use. Yeah, that’s obviously not going to work either, Quentin. We’re all chasing our tails here.
For me, and this is the way I’ve lived my life for many years now, I prefer the path that Marshall Faulk walks. The only difference is that I don’t care if you’re a friend or a stranger – if I hear someone saying something ridiculous, I speak up.
That’s central to the program I created on racism and diversity – don’t be afraid to honorably speak your mind when someone else ignorantly speaks their own. If you want the world to change, then help change it in your own circle and move forward from there. Little steps add up fast, and then one day you look back and realized you’ve climbed to the mountaintop. (Click HERE to view the NFL Network segment)
So I agree with Marshall Faulk’s take to some extent, but when it comes to Richie Incognito’s situation, the Fox NFL Sunday broadcast actually shed more light on it. A bit later Sunday morning, they aired excerpts of Jay Glazer’s interview with Richie, and the NFL Sunday crew all then commented on the interview, rather candidly.
They did a better job of addressing facts than the NFL Network did, and I actually found it to be a pretty moving segment. That’s also where the “partial kudos” I mentioned above factors in. I certainly appreciated Michael Irvin’s and Marshall Faulk’s takes on the situation, but there was also a fair amount of speculation within the NFL Network commentary Sunday, which I don’t think helped advance the discourse.
As for Richie’s use of the N-word, I think Richie himself (who between his on-the-field and off-the-field antics over the years has proven to be a much less than perfect person) hit the nail on the head during his interview with Jay Glazer.
He said, “The fact of the matter remains, though, that that voicemail was left on a private voicemail for my friend, and it was a joke.”
I challenge any guy in this day and age to readily take all of the voicemails he’s left for friends and pop them out onto the public airwaves. And please, let me know how comfortable you feel when that happens.
Now I am not defending Richie’s use of the N-word here whatsoever, because it’s still used in a negative way here no matter how you slice it (and shouldn’t be used period), but I am defending his right to speak with his friends privately and not expect those conversations to be thrown out in public or taken as context snippets for a witch hunt.
Richie proved himself in the past to be a less than stellar human being, he can’t deny the poor choices he made over the years, but when it comes to the skewering he’s receiving over the N-word here, I think the media is again running with the low hanging fruit and humanity’s lowest common denominator, and once more using it as a hot button.
Richie’s own teammates have defended him, some quite vehemently, and I’m sorry but that likely doesn’t happen if the guy is a raging racist. That’s point #1.
Point #2 is that Jonathan Martin left the team because of his what he deemed an excessive bullying culture within the NFL, which included “ a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments.” At no point did even his attorney come out and say Jonathan Martin left because he feels insurmountable racist hatred.
In fact, very little has actually been released from the Martin side, which makes all of the speculation just that much worse.
As someone who rips on racist comments anytime I hear them, and as someone who would’ve confronted Richie Incognito if I heard him speaking that way in person (even though he could most certainly kick my ass), I hate to see a story jump into the racism bucket when it’s, at its core, likely a very different situation (and that’s not to say that there’s no racism in the NFL).
I also hate to see someone get skewered for being racist when he obviously is not – you don’t have all those guys come out in your defense if you’re a racist. That being said, stop using the word Richie. Oh yeah, and don’t kick my ass.
In closing, I was actually proud of the ex-NFL players we now know as broadcasters who tackled the situation on Sunday. The guys did a great job of calling out Incognito for the ignorance display without over-skewering him minus all of the facts – surely due in large part to the first airing of Richie’s interview moments before.
Personally, I found it refreshing that both Fox and the NFL Network stepped up to honestly discuss the issue, despite the inherent discomfort. In a different era, barely a word would’ve been uttered on the subject, and I’m glad that I don’t live in that era.
To have the open discourse, to bring this kind of issue to light and discuss it on national TV the way it was done on Sunday… that’s how we start changing things (not via rants). I really appreciated it.
Finally, here’s a very interesting and personal commentary by former Miami Dolphins player Lydon Murtha, who, as he puts it, tries to “correct some of the misconceptions and outright lies being reported in the course of this story”:
Fact #1: Jonathon Martin’s attorney, David Cornwell, released this statement earlier this week:
“The issue is Jonathan’s treatment by his teammates. Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing. For the entire season-and-a-half that he was with the Dolphins, he attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment. This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying. Despite these efforts, the taunting continued. Beyond the well-publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments… These facts are not in dispute.”
“Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice. Despite his love for football, Jonathan left the Dolphins. Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation.”
Fact #2: The well-publicized voice mail that David refers to is as follows:
“Hey, wassup, you half n***** piece of (expletive). I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. I’ll (expletive) in your (expletive) mouth. I’m gonna slap your (expletive) mouth, I’m gonna slap your real mother across the face (laughter). (Expletive) you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
Fact #3: Richie Incognito appeared on Fox NFL Sunday in an interview with Jay Glazer, and had the following to say in response to the voicemail:
“I’ve taken stuff too far. I did not intend to hurt him. What I was going for … I hadn’t seen my buddy. I wanted to shock him. I wanted him to call me back. When the words are put out of context, I understand why a lot of eyebrows are raised. What people don’t know how Jon and I communicate to one another. A week before this went down, Jonathan Martin texted me, ‘I will murder your whole (expletive) family.’ Now did I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit. I know it was coming from a brother. I knew it was coming from a friend. I knew it was coming from a teammate. That puts in context how we communicate with one another…”
“This is an issue of my and John’s relationship. You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins locker room, ‘Who had John Martin’s back the absolute most?’ And they will undoubtedly tell you me. All of this stuff coming out, just, it speaks to the culture of our locker room, it speaks to the culture of our closeness, it speaks to the culture of our brotherhood. And the racism, the bad words, um, you know, that’s what I regret most, but that’s a product of the environment, that’s something that we use all the time.”
“I’m not a racist. To judge me by that one word, is wrong. It’s thrown around a lot. It’s a word I’ve heard Jon use a lot.”