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November 07, 2013

Incognito and Martin: An Insiderís Story: Former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Lydon Murtha pulls back the curtain on what he saw and what heís heard of the relationship between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, from the locker room dynamic to that now-famous O-line trip to Vegas

posted by BornIcon to football at 08:32 AM - 29 comments

Interesting read. I think Mike Golic was saying essentially the same thing yesterday in a conversation with one of the other ESPN talking heads. Personally, I believe that Incognito crossed a line, but the overwhelming response from former football players, offensive linemen in particular, was that Martin handled the whole thing very poorly, as well. Like Murtha says at the end of that piece, when a guy shows any kind of weakness, he is going to be weeded out. Not saying it's right, but it's a fact of life in the NFL (it seems).

posted by tahoemoj at 11:27 AM on November 07

I know someone with an inside source really close to this situation. The story he told is consistent with Murtha's. The offensive voicemail was Incognito calling Martin drunk from a bar when Martin was going to be out drinking with the linemen but hadn't shown up, and it was intended as playful harassment.

Obviously, some harassment is playful to only one side. But I think it's possible that the O-line banter among themselves was jokingly offensive. When someone who had been in their group says that is the case, it's worth keeping in mind.

posted by rcade at 11:42 AM on November 07

Wow. That's a pretty important article to read about this story. It definitely fleshes out the background of the situation.

posted by grum@work at 11:51 AM on November 07

I kind of wonder, if Martin had "been a man" and stood up to Incognito, if we'd now just be hearing a bunch of stories about how he's not a team player or some sort of locker room cancer and disrupting the cohesiveness of team chemistry or something, and "I went through the same stuff that he beat up/killed Incognito for, and I didn't feel the need to beat up/kill my teammates because the team comes first" etc.

posted by LionIndex at 12:24 PM on November 07

Maybe it's just me, but this seems like a bit of a well-polished smear job, from a guy who, while professing to be friends with Martin and Incognito, actually seems to have only ever played with Incognito (at college and in the pros). Maybe Murtha really is objective and has no axe to grind, but when the most you can muster in terms of balance is that Incognito's only mistake was to use the N-word, seems a bit suspect to me.

I am sure a lot of this is being overblown -- calling the ask/demand for $15k "extortion" is a bit rich (as is the hyperbole that Incognito's threats are or should be criminal offenses), and this article provides some additional context for that Vegas trip piece of it. But, as observed by (noted philosopher) Jim Schwartz in connection with previous hazing incidents and repeated more recently, at the end of the day the NFL and each NFL team is not a fraternity, but a multibillion dollar business. Why some pretty basic rules of civility and workplace behavior that should be observed in all businesses should not apply because football is "a man's game" is beyond me and is complete and utter bullshit. I don't care about the broader context of Incognito's voicemails and whether Martin originally viewed them as a joke or what have you (there are a lot of victims of bullying or abusive behavior who will make light of it to try to ingratiate themselves with their tormentors), some of this stuff is just beyond the pale.

I think this article by Brian Phillips at Grantland does a good job of addressing the "man up" response this whole things seems to have engendered from a number of players, talking heads, and assholes with Twitter accounts.

posted by holden at 12:33 PM on November 07

I think Mike Golic was saying essentially the same thing yesterday in a conversation with one of the other ESPN talking heads.

The one conversation Golic had yesterday that really intrigued me was with Dan LeBatard. It go heated.

posted by BornIcon at 01:30 PM on November 07

My source has no ties to Incognito and said the same things Murtha did.

Why some pretty basic rules of civility and workplace behavior that should be observed in all businesses should not apply because football is "a man's game" is beyond me and is complete and utter bullshit.

Comparing football to other businesses is silly. There aren't many businesses where workers are trained to physically brutalize each other and they face debilitating injuries every day they go to work. And nothing is as physical in football as playing on the line.

If you would excuse men in other deadly jobs some earthiness, hazing and inappropriate humor as part of the camaraderie of the profession, I don't see why you wouldn't extend that to football. It's a brutal activity. The men who do it at the highest level are by necessity more aggressive and dominant personalities than other people.

This doesn't mean that no workplace norms should ever apply to them, but let's not pretend it's a workplace like any other. Unless you work at a job where you might get hit so hard you poop your pants and you sometimes fish half-digested Vicodin out of your vomit to cope with pain.

posted by rcade at 01:31 PM on November 07

Comparing football to other businesses is silly. There aren't many businesses where workers are trained to physically brutalize each other and they face debilitating injuries every day they go to work. And nothing is as physical in football as playing on the line.

rcade -- I was not trying to suggest that the same rules apply to all workplaces. Obviously, what goes on and is acceptable in a law firm is different than what is acceptable in a military platoon or a football locker room. However, as noted, I think there are some basic rules that should apply across the board and, in this case, seems that even a fairly low generally-applicable baseline has been breached. I suppose one can dispute that the specifics in this case breach some subjective and mythical baseline standard, but to take what I wrote as suggesting that the NFL should be held to the same standards as all other work places is a misreading at best and disingenuous at worst.

Also, and this point is made in the Grantland article I linked, if the NFL clearly (or even from the standpoint of perception) has a problem with its employees' mental health and with violent tendencies spilling over off the field, seems some efforts should be made to address the factors that contribute to that and to try to limit those (to the greatest extent possible) to on-field brutish behavior only. I appreciate that it is not possible to simply flip the switch on and off on this stuff, but the NFL and its teams can and should do a better job of addressing that. Just because this type of behavior is fairly widespread does not mean that that's the way it must be and should continue to be.

posted by holden at 01:45 PM on November 07

... to take what I wrote as suggesting that the NFL should be held to the same standards as all other work places is a misreading at best and disingenuous at worst.

Given how strongly worded your comment was, particularly the passage I quoted, I think I gave it a fair reading. We're not far apart in our opinion, anyway, since we both think some norms should apply.

If there are basic rules that should apply to this situation, what are they, specifically? I think context is everything here, even in the infamous voicemail. A lot of people think Incognito should be drummed out of the league for using a racial slur in a threatening voicemail. But what if neither side thought it was a threat, and what if teammates say that slur was thrown around in a joking manner often?

The thing I liked most about the Grantland piece was the call for every team to have a full-time psychiatrist. If the Dolphins had one, perhaps Martin could have either dealt with his problems or come to an easier realization that the game isn't what he should be doing with his life, which I suspect is a factor in this whole controversy.

The guy went to Stanford and both his parents did as well. There's likely a good brain in his head he has particular reason to want to keep healthy.

posted by rcade at 02:06 PM on November 07

Oops: The guy who wants a psychiatrist on NFL teams is Rick Reilly, in his new commentary renouncing his love for football.

posted by rcade at 02:08 PM on November 07

The one conversation Golic had yesterday that really intrigued me was with Dan LeBatard. It go heated.

That's the one I was thinking of. I really like Golic, and his opinion was important to the formation of my own in this matter. And now Murtha and rcade's source only strengthen that opinion. I think at first, I was thinking of Incognito as some sociopathic nutjob bully who wrongfully drove Martin out of the locker room. The situation is definitely more nuanced than that.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:31 PM on November 07

Given how strongly worded your comment was, particularly the passage I quoted, I think I gave it a fair reading.

Look, I won't quibble on your intent. I will just say I feel you read what I wrote to erect a strawman (NFL workplace = all other workplaces and should be governed by all the same rules) into my statement that was not there, and missed a key qualifier.

If there are basic rules that should apply to this situation, what are they, specifically? I think context is everything here, even in the infamous voicemail. A lot of people think Incognito should be drummed out of the league for using a racial slur in a threatening voicemail. But what if neither side thought it was a threat, and what if teammates say that slur was thrown around in a joking manner often?

How about no use of racial or homophobic slurs under any circumstances, for one? Who cares if it is done often? It has no place in civilized society and certainly should not be condoned (or have a blind eye turned to it) in any workplace. That is just an issue of human dignity/human decency. Also, federal laws addressing workplace harassment as relating to hostile work environments. I suspect if Martin wanted to pursue a legal case here (and maybe that it his last best chance for a big payday if he does not want to or will not be able to continue a career as a professional football player), this will get settled out and we probably will not see a court/jury try to struggle through the concept of applying these laws to the football context and determining whether Martin was part of a protected class, but I would probably not want to be arguing the Dolphins side on that one.

I'm not saying Incognito should be run out of the league for this (although I am sure some are). The norms and ways of football culture are what they are at this point and should be taken into account when judging his actions. I just think they should change -- not to the same level of behavior expected in other workplace contexts, but to a level that is compatible with 21st century standards of general human behavior.

posted by holden at 02:33 PM on November 07

There aren't many businesses where workers are trained to physically brutalize each other and they face debilitating injuries every day they go to work.

The armed forces?

posted by grum@work at 02:44 PM on November 07

How about no use of racial or homophobic slurs under any circumstances, for one? Who cares if it is done often?

A form of the racial slur is in countless hip hop songs and is used colloquially in a friendly manner by many young people among themselves. I think a blanket rule against using it in the NFL is likely to run head first into that reality, particularly given how many players are black.

A Miami Herald writer talked to Dolphins players who called Incognito an "honorary" black person, which I suppose is to explain him using the word in a less bad light. From the story:

[Incognito] "is honorary," one player who left the Dolphins this offseason told me today. "I don't expect you to understand because you're not black. But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It's about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you've experienced. A lot of things."
Personally I find any use of the word offensive. But culturally we've gone a long way away from that in the past 20 years. Search for versions of the word on Twitter and you'll find a lot of non-racist usage. If an NFL player calls another player that in a context that is not taken as offensive by the people who heard it, I don't see why it should matter to anybody else.

posted by rcade at 02:46 PM on November 07

Maybe it's just me, but this seems like a bit of a well-polished smear job, from a guy who, while professing to be friends with Martin and Incognito, actually seems

I read the same from this story. The writer professes at the start as "not having a dog in this fight", an extremely poor choice of words used in relating to a controversial NFL story, then immediately appears to praise Incognito at every opportunity while bashing Martin.

Clearly he does have a horse in this race.

As many others have pointed out there's a lot of stuff that goes on in the context of team sports that society frowns upon. But in any situation, team or otherwise, it is clearly evident from the outset what will be considered acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Incognito crossed the line here. There is a chance that he's simply a big dumb fat guy who didn't pick up on Martin's reactions to his antics, but I'm pretty sold at this point that it was his intent to bully a team mate.

posted by cixelsyd at 03:04 PM on November 07

... while bashing Martin.

"There might be a team that gives him a chance because he's a good person ..."

I think Murtha tried to be fair to both Incognito and Martin in that piece. But he claims that Martin was so much of a lone wolf that he resisted buying his position group the rookie dinner, something he'd never seen a rookie do before.

Teammates and ex-teammates are going to value a team player with flaws (like Incognito) over an aloof person who resists the group norms. It's human nature.

posted by rcade at 03:19 PM on November 07

A form of the racial slur is in countless hip hop songs and is used colloquially in a friendly manner by many young people among themselves. I think a blanket rule against using it in the NFL is likely to run head first into that reality, particularly given how many players are black.

Art/entertainment and social media/social interactions inhabit or occur in cultural spaces, not workplaces. I am all for the right of people to say whatever they want, to present it in their creative outputs, etc. But I see no reason to condone or accept behavior that is okay from a first amendment standpoint in a workplace, even one as idiosyncratic as that of an NFL team. I appreciate that these things may come out in the heat of battle (and, if a player is unlucky enough to have a mic or lipreader pick it up, we have seen some of them fined for it), but as an employer you have the right to set rules of conduct for your employees and I think this should be one that is deployed (and one that it is in the interest of teams to deploy, from a legal liability standpoint).

If an NFL player calls another player that in a context that is not taken as offensive by the people who heard it, I don't see why it should matter to anybody else.

But who's to say someone has or hasn't take offense? I think this situation has effectively proven (via the outrage over Martin allegedly violating "the code" -- i.e., the sanctity of the locker room) that even if someone is offended, they likely would not pipe up about it. If we use my other example of baseline rules and apply this logic and assumption (that no one is offended, so who cares?) to homophobic slurs, you get a line of thinking that is certainly conducive to a locker room culture in which gay athletes would never even think of coming out.

rcade: There aren't many businesses where workers are trained to physically brutalize each other and they face debilitating injuries every day they go to work.

grum: The armed forces?

This article by a former marine is a good read. While the comments suggest that the enforcement of the Marines policy may leave a bit to be desired, at least they have a policy.

posted by holden at 03:34 PM on November 07

"There might be a team that gives him a chance because he's a good person ..."

Clearly not the same vote he gives Incognito in the story, where he justifies the guy's bullying antics.

Be interesting to know if it was Martin who took Murtha's spot on the roster.

posted by cixelsyd at 03:37 PM on November 07

But who's to say someone has or hasn't take offense?

The people involved. If Martin or anyone else who heard a racial slur was offended, then it's a big deal. But if not, not. I think a blanket rule about specific words is less likely to be well-enforced than if a situation is judged in context. The NFL should just ask everybody involved in this conflict what went down, and either punish or exonerate, as quickly as possible.

Clearly not the same vote he gives Incognito in the story, where he justifies the guy's bullying antics.

He's under no obligation to give equal criticism to both sides. His take is the closest to the situation of anybody who has spoken out on this. I think you're too quick to dismiss it.

posted by rcade at 03:50 PM on November 07

The people involved. If Martin or anyone else who heard a racial slur was offended, then it's a big deal. But if not, not. I think a blanket rule about specific words is less likely to be well-enforced than if a situation is judged in context. The NFL should just ask everybody involved in this conflict what went down, and either punish or exonerate, as quickly as possible.

I think it is easier to have a blanket rule that frankly would not result in much loss of camaraderie or loss of any meaningful social good than to rely on self-reporting when it has clearly been established that speaking out is likely to result in character attacks and being ostracized. Sure, it might be unpopular and/or difficult to enforce, but it seems the social good of a blanket prohibition would outweigh any benefit of continued use of racial slurs even when not intended as racial slurs. And, not that you have applied this logic to the homophobic slurs side of the coin (which you have elected to ignore), but I think this logic really starts to fall apart when you think about homophobic slurs in a locker room/team environment and the possible resulting adverse consequences in terms of inculcating an environment in which gay players could really never feel comfortable.

posted by holden at 04:11 PM on November 07

I elected to ignore it because there's less of an argument against its blanket prohibition. There are no reports of gay athletes calling each other that word affectionately in locker rooms. Using it in a locker room where gays are invisible is different than the N word being used when blacks are 67% of the league's players.

Do you really think a blanket prohibition on variants of the N word is going to stop its non-antagonistic usage among young black athletes and some white ones in their social circles? If not, the end result will be occasional players punished for commonplace behavior, based on whether the outside world caught wind of it.

posted by rcade at 04:39 PM on November 07

Do you really think a blanket prohibition on variants of the N word is going to stop its non-antagonistic usage among young black athletes and some white ones in their social circles? If not, the end result will be occasional players punished for commonplace behavior, based on whether the outside world caught wind of it.

No, I think it is unlikely to change general usage in the culture at large, but that's not the point. The point is, allowing it in a workplace is really downside only from an employer's perspective. Putting aside the issue of homophobic slurs (which, as a somewhat tangential aside, while presumably not used as "terms of affection" among young people, also regularly show up in the same music in which racial slurs are used in a non-racial-slur sense), take the example of sexual overtures. In the non-workplace world, one is free to, and it is presumably commonplace to, hit on members of the opposite sex (or the same sex) and even to outright sexually proposition them. And to do so in the workplace is not per se illegal. But most employers rightly prohibit this type of behavior at work, even in a joking manner, without requiring a look behind how someone takes it, because the risks of turning a blind eye to that type of thing are just too great. I don't think they do it with any expectation of changing the culture at large or prohibiting lawful private behavior, but because it is just a bad policy from an employment law and risk perspective to let that go unchecked in the workplace.

posted by holden at 04:59 PM on November 07

... also regularly show up in the same music in which racial slurs are used in a non-racial-slur sense ...

True, but hip hop is notoriously homophobic, Maclemore and Ryan Lewis excepted. In The slur is being used by one group to ridicule another, which is different than when one is used as a self-identifier within a group.

I know why workplaces enact rules. Lawyers make them extra careful. But are you in favor of Incognito being punished for using a racial slur even if everyone who heard it said it was a jocular moment without insulting intent? This wasn't something he did publicly. It was in a voicemail to one person.

posted by rcade at 05:19 PM on November 07

Reiterating my earlier opinion, there are people who aren't ruffled by words or actions normally considered taboo. Realize others are and be perceptive enough to proceed accordingly.

Martin obviously is a guy that was bothered by the Incognito's shtick. If Incognito had the least amount of respect for Martin in this case he would have conducted himself differently.

posted by cixelsyd at 06:30 PM on November 07

I know why workplaces enact rules. Lawyers make them extra careful. But are you in favor of Incognito being punished for using a racial slur even if everyone who heard it said it was a jocular moment without insulting intent? This wasn't something he did publicly. It was in a voicemail to one person.

No, I don't think Incognito should be retroactively punished for violating a bright-line rule relating to racial slurs that was not in effect at the time it was breached (and likely never will be enacted, for reasons you have set forth). Ex post facto and all that stuff. As noted above, however, I do think that teams or the league should think about taking steps to formally ban certain behaviors/actions/types of talk to ensure this situation does not arise in the future and so that they have a clearer legal basis for taking action of the type the Dolphins did here.

I think the voicemail was in exceedingly poor judgment at best and threatening at worst (and it goes well beyond just the use of racially-charged terms), and sounds as if it was part of a pattern of repeatedly creating or contributing to a harassing environment, which is the reason I think Incognito was (and should have been) punished. I suspect the Dolphins suspended him not necessarily because this was "beyond the pale" (my words from above), but largely because they wanted to cover themselves from a liability standpoint and because they probably have broad cover to do so under a "conduct detrimental to the team" clause in his contract. Good outcome (from my perspective), even if the motivation was somewhat self-serving.

I'm not going to shed any tears for Incognito -- by many accounts he is a dirty and disrespectful player that opponents have suggested aims to injure. In a bizzaro circumstance of "protecting one of their own" which only comes about because another of "its own" was not protected by his team or teammates, I am sure the union will try to make sure Incognito gets paid under his current contract. If he does not get another contract offer after this "character assassination," I will view that as largely of his own doing. My guess is that he makes some public apology and gets another job; in the NFL (as with many other professional sports) you can usually find at least one team willing to value talent over character.

posted by holden at 06:31 PM on November 07

I can't speak for all states, but in my state we have hostile work environment laws that, in practice, can work in the following way.

Say a pair of like-minded people are sitting around making off-color jokes. A third person, who is not part of that conversation, overhears them. Now, the intent of the two people making the jokes might have just been to push each other's buttons or to amuse each other with how far they'd take some of the jokes. That intent doesn't matter at all if the third party takes offense to it. To whit, the intent of the speaker doesn't matter as much as the effect it has on the hearer.

The bigger issue is that if the third party reports this to the employer and no action is taken to address their concern, the third party has grounds for a lawsuit.

Also, once its been brought to somebody's attention that their behavior is making somebody else feel harassed on the job, the next time they do it, they're making a deliberate choice to ignore to do something that makes somebody feel harassed.

All of this business of the culture of the football locker room is besides the point - if the language or behavioral choices of the player are causing somebody employed by the team - be they player, staff, janitor, whomever - to feel like their workplace is hostile and that person bring it to the attention of management and nothing is done about it, they may be risking a lawsuit that they're very likely to lose.

It would, thus, be in the interest of the NFL and each of its teams to have some sort of basic workplace conduct training. Locker rooms are workplaces and, thus, are subject to workplace laws. Whether one agrees with the laws or not is immaterial to whether one is subject to those laws. (IANAL obviously)

posted by Joey Michaels at 06:56 PM on November 07

Judging by the fact that the latest comments from the Martin camp are from his lawyer, I think it is safe to assume that the Dolphins will soon be learning that they are a workplace, and subject to the same workplace laws on harassment as any other.

Also saw that the lawyer mentioned a malicious physical attack as well as daily verbal abuse. The drama continues.

posted by Mothball at 03:54 AM on November 08

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