As the bullying allegations aimed at Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito continue, connections to the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men” become easier to make. In fact, it shouldn’t be long before Miami head coach Joe Philbin says to a group of reporters: “You can’t handle the truth!”
In this case, it’s the media playing the role of the courtroom, and breaking stories every day seem to mirror the Incognito situation and the movie.
As the story about Incognito and fellow Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin continues to unfold, media have been racing to make the connections to bullying, to racism and to a culture that may have run amok.
Let’s start with Martin, who is this story’s Pvt. William T. Santiago, a second-year player from Stanford trying to fit in with the team. Martin is a bit different. He’s described in the San Jose Mercury News as a quiet offensive lineman with a strong intellectual curiosity. (Story) This doesn’t fit in the rough-and-tumble NFL, where players are expected just to answer questions and play. Martin has been characterized by media stories as an outsider, including first-person accounts from former players.
Media cast Incognito in the role of Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, a man who takes pride in being a Marine but also has made mistakes that can be taken advantage of by his superiors. Incognito’s mistakes are many. (Story) He can’t afford to make his bosses upset, so when the coaches come to him and tell him to “toughen up” his friend Martin, Incognito does so. (Story)
But things go too far. Martin leaves the team, and Incognito becomes the scapegoat for the hazing and bullying that is part of life in the NFL. Media go crazy. So many ways exist to look at this story. Incognito is a bully, a racist and a man who should never be allowed to play in the NFL. Not only that, but Incognito also serves as another example of a sport of violence that has gone too far. (Story)
Then another narrative started. Players from other teams blamed the victim (Martin) for being soft. The “code red” was a part of life in the NFL, just like in the movie. (Story) Players defended Incognito and blamed Martin. In a world so filled with testosterone, so charged with the notion of manhood, Martin just didn’t measure up. Why didn’t he settle this the old-fashioned way, by confronting Incognito? (Story)
This led to the next media narrative: questioning whether this is the culture in the NFL, and whether this culture needs to be changed. (Story)
Like the movie, the Incognito case raises so many questions that fans who watch the games (and media that cover them) must ask themselves these questions:
1. Can we really afford to pull back the curtain on the culture that is the NFL, and still sit on our couches and enjoy the violence every Sunday?
2. Who do we want on that wall that actor Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie, Col. Nathan R. Jessep, so graphically depicted in the movie – and should we care how they got there?
3. Finally, bullying has become such a rampant part of social media that it can lead to suicide in some people. It has even become so rampant that it can affect a big, strong, tough man like Martin, an NFL athlete. How should we look at social media and bullying?
Scott Lambert is a faculty member in the English department at Millikin University. He is a former managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review and worked as a sports journalist and editor for 13 years.