Nov 11, 2013
The violent bullying of Miami Dolphin’s player Jonathon Martin at the hands of Richie Incognito and other teammates has blown the lid off of one NFL locker room. It became obvious as the scandal unfolded that the problem extends well beyond the players. Coaches reportedly asked Incognito to “toughen up” Martin. When Martin complained, the Dolphin’s General Manager Jeff Ireland reportedly told him to punch Richie Incognito to settle their differences.
This is a sport that makes billions for its team owners by encouraging brutality. The NFL admitted as much in August, when it agreed to a 765 million dollar settlement with 4,500 former players who sued over concussion-related brain injuries. The lawsuit said that the NFL profited by glorifying the violence of the game and “set up a sham committee” that “spread misinformation” about the brain risks inherent in football. The settlement was an acknowledgment by the NFL that it was responsible for the deaths, suicides, and dementia that came from these head injuries.
It should be no surprise that a billion dollar sport profiting from inflicting permanent damage on its players would encourage bullying in the locker room. How else can you get players to keep playing despite the risks, and to inflict such harm on each other? A few players make a lot of money, but most play for a short time and wind up with little to show for it. So the players have to be “toughened up.” Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall explained that football players, “Can’t show that you’re hurt. Can’t show any pain. So for a guy that comes in a locker room and shows a little vulnerability, that’s a problem.”
The NFL wants to pretend the problem is Richie Incognito, or at most the culture of the Miami Dolphins. But this macho culture extends well beyond the Dolphins. NFL players from other teams report being taped to the ground, covered in Icy Hot and punched, or repeatedly dumped in buckets of ice water against their will.
The real problem is that the owners make billions by treating their players like meat, brutalizing them in body and mind. Football is an intricate, athletic sport that can be a joy to watch and that can teach players teamwork and discipline. But like every other sport in this country, football is run for profit, and brutality sells.