The infamous Richie Incognito, who was suspended indefinitely from the Miami Dolphins football team when his racist and violent telephone messages to teammate Jonathan Martin were revealed, has broken his silence and given an interview to Fox News with his side of the story.
He says that this kind of talk that shocked everyone was the kind of banter engaged between good friends and buddies, especially in football locker rooms, and that he and Martin are actually close friends who look out for each other.
“The week before this went down, Jonathan Martin texted me on my phone, [saying] ‘I will murder your whole effing family.’ Now, did I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit. I knew it was coming from a brother. I knew it was coming from a friend. I knew it was coming from a teammate. That just puts in context how we communicate with one another.”
Asked about his alleged use of racially charged language, Incognito said: “Jon never showed signs that football was getting to him, or that the locker room was getting to him. When I see those words come across the screen [the words he texted to Martin], I’m embarrassed by them. But what I want people to know is that the way Jonathan and the rest of the offensive line, and how our teammates communicate … it’s vulgar. It’s not right. I understand why eyebrows get raised, but people don’t know how Jon and I communicate with each other.”
Asked about how he felt, as a white man, about using the word “nigger”, he said: “I’m not a racist. To judge me by that one word is wrong. In no way, shape or form is it acceptable for me to use that word, even if it’s friend to friend. It’s thrown around a lot. It’s a word I’ve heard Jon use a lot – not saying it’s right for when I did it in the voicemail, but there are a lot of colorful words thrown around in the locker room that we don’t use in everyday life. The fact of the matter remains, though, that the voicemail was left on a private voicemail for my friend, and it was a joke.”
The sad thing is that it is plausible that Incognito is telling the truth. There is a weird male subculture in the US that thinks that hurling scatological, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and violent language at one another, or subjecting them to dangerous and humiliating ‘pranks’, is a sign of closeness. I frankly find it bizarre and think that it is worthy of psychological study as to why people think that it is ever acceptable, funny even, to say that one is going to rape and murder one’s friend’s family members or defecate on them.
I suspect the fact that Martin left the team over this is because many people actually dislike this behavior and find it uncomfortable and even demeaning but hesitate to go against the prevailing subculture and may even participate in it in order to be seen as a ‘team player’, until it just gets to be too much and they can’t take it anymore. And that breaking point will be reached because once you breach the principle that others need to be treated with courtesy and their dignity respected, as happens in hazing and bullying cultures, a negative spiral of behavior becomes inevitable with worse and worse language and actions becoming the norm.
There is a milder form of this that I still find distasteful and that is the ‘roast’. This is, I believe, a purely American phenomenon (though I am willing to be corrected on that) where people gather together at a function to honor someone on some special occasion, except that the honoring consists of speeches and jokes and insults in which the honoree is the butt of the humor. The guest of honor is expected to be a good sport about being insulted publicly and laugh along with the rest.
I just don’t get it.
When my thesis advisor turned 60, his colleagues organized a big party for him and invited many people to such an event, a few of whom were asked to speak. As someone who greatly admired and respected him and still consider him and his family close friends, I was honored to be chosen as a former graduate student to be one of the few speakers but there was no way in hell that I was going to say anything bad about him, even if everyone knew that it was in jest. It would have been impossible for me to even get the words out.
So I ignored the guidelines and gave a speech that had jokes that either reflected well on him or were aimed at myself. It was out of place compared to the other speeches, but I didn’t care. There was not a chance that I was going to speak badly about someone that I care so much about.
But then, I am not a football player.