The ordeal with the Miami Dolphins is layered with many questions and few facts we can take as true, right now. Two things that should never be questioned, but are at odd ends of the spectrum in this instance, are acceptable workplace behavior and the happenings of an NFL locker room. Under no circumstance should racist remarks be directed towards or spewed around coworkers in any work setting. I’m not, nor would I ever excuse that. However, I must relay that the social mores and climate of a male locker room (football players at that) is vastly warped when compared to everyday life.
A truth that might make some uneasy is that, yes, things are often said in jest about race, gender, sexual orientation and even family members in locker rooms that would fall under harassment or or possibly threatening to someone from the outside looking in. There’s a reason why outlandish things said by athletes is called locker room humor and more often then not, the stuff that leaks from misquotes and tweets is toned down. Players of any age, in any sport spend a majority of their time together and usually draw lines on what is and isn’t acceptable to say or do, and It’s up to each individual to set those boundaries.
Was Jonathan Martin, the Dolphin right tackle who left the team sighting Incognito’s harassment, a victim here? As far as we can see, yes. Incognito clearly went too far with the racial stuff. But what we can’t get from talking heads shouting how outraged they are or editorial reports is context. We don’t know if the racial epitaphs ever jokingly went back and forth. We weren’t there to see how the two interacted on and off the field. We won’t know until everything comes out, just how much Martin was truly scarred by the “bullying,” and if that’s truly what made him leave the organization to check into a hospital.
Then there’s the question of what the players know and what they saw? Yesterday, teammates, both black and white, began to speak on the situation and came to the defense of Incognito. That could be the result of pressure from the front office, or perhaps it’s the rest of the Dolphins acting off of what we don’t know: what they saw and heard as first hand witnesses of the actions of both players.
Despite the severity, punishments and obvious racial coments, both players will probably be welcomed back to football at some point, albeit most likely with different organizations, when the smoke clears. No one’s naive enough to think that this will change what’s deemed acceptable locker room ribbing, but the conversation for change has started.
That much we know.