Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 21, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: NFL’s non-inclusive behavior needs to be flushed away

In the week since Richie Incognito’s so-called bullying of his fellow offensive line-mate, Jonathan Martin, bubbled up from the Miami Dolphins’ sewer of a locker room, countless sports journalists and pundits have voiced their opinions on the matter. The story is so outside of the cultural norms of human decency that it is being covered by news media outlets.

The incident does warrant close scrutiny, but to limit it to a discussion of bullying in the locker room and the inappropriate use of the N-word misses the point entirely. What we have is another incident in a series of events that reveals just how organizationally dysfunctional the National Football League is.

Treating Incognito’s alleged strategies for toughening up Martin as an isolated incident ignores the fact that bullying is part of the same locker-room culture that yielded the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal, where players were financially rewarded for deliberate attempts to injure opponents. This occured with full support and encouragement of some of the coaching staff and front office. It is clear that some in positions of authority in Miami encouraged and supported their now-suspended “leadership council” member because of Incognito’s behavior.

Commissioner Roger Goodell now must punish the Dolphins in a similar manner to the Philadelphia Eagles. Goodell recently suspended Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles for drunkenly uttering the N-word and having it broadcasted across Internet-based media outlets. Cooper was welcomed back to the Eagles after undergoing sensitivity counseling. Having set this precedent, Goodell must mete out similar punishment for Incognito.

The hypocrisy of the organizational structure of the NFL is exposed by connecting the dots in these two dimensions. In the cases of deliberate attempts to injure in New Orleans and bullying in Miami, the league’s immediate and powerful response may play well in the media. But this is the same organization that for decades suppressed and ignored medical evidence that participation in the game was debilitating and lethal.

Only because the NFL had more money than those injured and dying veterans of the league did it
result in the recent settlement of the class action lawsuit and no admission of culpability — see the recent PBS Frontline program “League of Denial.” In the cases of the disgustingly casual use of the N-word by NFL players, the commissioner’s response should be commended. But this is the same commissioner who has supported the Washington football team’s continued use of the word R——-* and, in the process, actually sat in the same room with representatives from the Oneida Nation and willfully ignored their pleas for justice.

The NFL is an autocratic, top-down, hierarchical organization that guarantees a lack of effective communication within the structure. But worse, those in positions of authority willfully remain ignorant of what is going on at levels below. This structure allows locker rooms in Miami, New Orleans, Washington and, we can assume, everywhere else to become breeding grounds for racist, heterosexist and homophobic behavior. The nonsensical argument that, “this is just the culture of tough guys,” is rendered impotent. If we want to clean up the sewer of this league, begin at the top. Better yet, get rid of the whole damn thing. The NFL, and football, has outlived whatever usefulness it once had. No person who wishes to live in a civilized society should think otherwise.

*The author does not wish to use the word “Redskins” to identify the sports team.