Many people would agree that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin is a victim of racism. It has been reported that the text messages and voice mails he received from fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito were threatening and had racial overtones.
But, if there hadn’t been any racial aspects to the messages and voice mails, would the threats and violent attitudes towards Martin still be considered to have a racial bias? In other words, could Martin have been bullied without having been discriminated against for his race?
Those are hard questions to answer definitively, since there is only room to speculate. In fact, just about the whole Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin/Miami Dolphins debacle involves speculation because getting into the minds of others is impossible.
The situation is a subtle one to analyze. I believe one of the main points missed has to do with how black athletes are perceived.
Up until a few years ago, many black athletes were being turned away from playing quarterback in the NFL. Why was that? Because scouts and organizational football elite thought they were typically better built for skill positions like running back and wide receiver.
There are plenty of other examples of black athletes being stereotyped, probably too many to count. A few that come to my mind are that blacks can’t play winter-type of sports or blacks can’t swim. Those stereotypes now look ridiculous.
I think that Jonathan Martin got a different dose of judgement, not involving physical skills.
Incognito picked on him because he was different as a person and he wasn’t the type of athlete Incognito and the Dolphins were used to being around. They threatened him and were negative towards him as a way to force him to change his way of thinking as an athlete, or “toughen him up.”
But Incognito and others were never going to change who Martin is at his core. He’s his own person with his own thoughts and ideas. He should have been respected, just like any other teammate.
Either he measures up skills-wise and plays well or he doesn’t make the cut. In sports, it should always be about performance.
Black athletes are a diverse group. Black people, multi-racial people are diverse ethnic groups of people. They can’t all be pigeonholed and thought of as if they all act alike. That’s absurd.
It’s true many black athletes come from the inner-city and poor economic circumstances. It is also true that blacks over the last few decades have collectively gained a bigger place in the middle classes of American culture.
The harassment of Jonathan Martin was partly due to the players around him not identifying enough with him and trying to change him. Some of it had to do with race and the way people judge black athletes.
The other big part of this picture has to do with the culture of football, how the game must be played and how the sport moves forward in a progressive, politically correct social climate. That topic will have to wait for another time and place, as it deserves its own proper due with a full article.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com