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Who Was Incognito … And Who Wasn’t?

Who Was Incognito … And Who Wasn’t?
By Martin Alvin

Some people look at six foot, five inch, three hundred and twenty pound Jonathan Martin and think to themselves: this guy shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. Hell, he looks as if he’s able to bench press a goddamn Buick. Makes no sense, right? Well, looks can be deceiving. People aren’t always what they appear to be.

This actor friend of mine is comfortable and confident when performing in front of an audience. And yet, when off stage, he’s very quiet and introverted. He’s not the confident, comfortable, grounded guy he appears to be on stage, when not performing in front of an audience.

Another guy I know is the lead singer in a band. He’s as dynamic and utterly fearless on stage as any performer I’ve ever seen. Off stage, though, he’s virtually catatonic. He, too, is not the guy his audiences see when he’s performing in front of them.

So, maybe big, strong, Jonathan Martin, who’s capable and comfortable on the playing field — in front of a stadium audience — simply isn’t the same big, bruising, physical, violent guy off the playing field and away from the audience. Maybe he, too, isn’t what he appears to be.

And what if Jonathan Martin, an intelligent, well-bred, young man, finds himself in a locker room culture that’s completely alien and offensive to him? A pro sports locker room, or a military barracks, or a loading dock, or a construction site, always has an attendant culture, which is not particularly well bred; it’s often crude and violent and politically incorrect. Guys regularly and graphically call each other vile names and refer to each other by their ethnicity; and not in polite or politically correct ways, either.

In these cultures, a kid arrives raw and unpolished. The veteran guys are tasked with providing the polish. And very often, it’s a brutal polishing process. But after a while, the kid evolves and then, he’s charged with polishing the next raw kid. Fair or unfair. Humane or inhumane. Politically correct or politically incorrect; that’s just how it is and how it’s always been. It’s the blue-collar version of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Some kids survive. Some kids don’t. Period.

Dealing with the culture is the price guys pay to be part of their profession: be it a football player, or a soldier, or a truck driver, or a construction worker. And maybe some of these guys resent that price; but they pay it anyway because they want what the profession offers. The prevailing culture will not adapt to the guy. The guy must adapt to the prevailing culture. And if the guy doesn’t want the profession badly enough to do that, then he walks away. It’s up to him.

It’s no different than going into a 7-11 for a container of coffee. You either pay the two bucks or leave without the coffee. If you really want the coffee, you’ll pay the two bucks. If you don’t really want it, you’ll leave empty-handed. Simple as that.

And what about Richie Incognito? Hell, apparently, he’s exactly what he appears to be. So, isn’t ironic that his last name is Incognito –- which is defined as: without revealing one’s true identity; i.e. not being what you appear to be? Maybe we should call him Richie Cognito and change Jonathan’s last name to Incognito, because he isn’t what he appears to be … or maybe not; what the hell do I know?

Somebody, Gregory Peck, I think, as Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, said: “Never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Joe South sang something similar in his song: Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Matthew 7:1 wisely advises: “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Maybe none of us really knows what the hell happened between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and unless — or until — we do, maybe we shouldn’t judge them or jump to conclusions because, situations –- like people – aren’t always what they seem to be.

Maybe Jonathan Martin just didn’t want to pay the two bucks and Richie Incognito did, and still does. Maybe Jonathan Martin prefers tea. Maybe Jonathan Martin just decided to dump the culture he was so uncomfortable with and end his playing career. Maybe he didn’t. If he did, though, it’s not the end of the world for him or the Dolphins, or for Richie Incognito. Some team will give Richie another shot. The Dolphins will find another left tackle. And Jonathan Martin –- healthy, well educated, in the prime if his life; and with an awful lot of the Dolphin’s money as their second round draft choice — will have hundreds of options open to him: like maybe, a lawsuit, or a book deal, or a made for TV movie. So, I’m still wondering: Who Was Incognito … And Who Wasn’t?

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2 Responses to “Who Was Incognito … And Who Wasn’t?”

  1. don morris says:

    Football has to adapt to a new culture,not the other way around. You mention construction. I was a construction tradesman and later,contractor for 27 years before retiring. The culture of the construction site has changed from being very much the same as a sports team, macho, crude, foul language, to reflect the national culture we live in.

    Today,any crude,sexist,or racist remarks on the job site had better be said very quietly,or the perpetrator will find himself in the Superintendent’s office. Second offences usually mean suspension,third offences, permanent removal from the site.

    Football isn’t sacred,it’s just another entertainment medium,and it’s culture should change to reflect the outside sport culture,or face the reality of lawsuits, and probably the loss of some good players.

  2. Martin says:

    Thanks for your comments Don. You make some excellent points. I don’t happen to agree that things have actually changed very much in how guys interact on site, or on the loading dock, or in the barracks; but assuming you’re right: in order for the superintendent to be aware of the problem and address it, someone has to bring it to his –- or, her –- attention. And that’s not done by sullenly walking away from the problem. It’s addressed only by tackling the problem, head-on -– pardon the pun.

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