By Roger Barbee
Over the past few days, I have been reading about the Miami Dolphins -- not because I enjoy professional football but because of the actions of guard Richie Incognito against teammate and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
It seems that a coach asked Incognito to "toughen up" Martin after Martin missed a voluntary workout this past spring. Martin, who has started every game for Miami after being drafted in 2012 out of Stanford University, released voicemails on which Incognito used racial slurs, threatened Martin's sister with sexual perversions, and said, "I'll kill you."
The team has suspended Incognito indefinitely, the NFL has launched an investigation, Martin has left the team, and players around the league have risen to defend Incognito, who said in an interview, "This [my words on the tape] came from a culture of brotherhood."
Tyson Clabo, an offensive tackle for Miami, is quoted as saying Martin "needs to stand up and be a man..." The sad, twisted tale goes on and on as more and more is exposed concerning the culture of NFL locker rooms, and the "breaking in" of younger players in this professional arena.
While in one way I could care less what a bunch of overpaid, over-worshiped, and immature men in tight white pants do as they run up and down a field, while trying to out-dance each other after doing what they are paid to do -- be it make a touchdown, catch a ball, or score a touchdown -- I care because youngsters watch and listen to them. Like them or not, they are models.
Long ago, I gave up personal interest in their game, and refuse to support wealthy owners by watching it. However, as a member of our culture, I am aware of how young men and even women view these men and their athletic talents. Our culture has been manipulated by the NFL into hero worshiping these men, and this is what concerns me because youngsters will emulate the Incognitos and Clabos, and others like them. As a high school coach, I find this alarming.
I wonder what the unnamed coach meant when he asked Incognito to "toughen up" Martin? After all, Martin is a graduate of Stanford University, which offers some proof to his fortitude. Also, if a coach thought a player in any sport needed to be made tougher, I feel it is the coach's responsibility to change the attitude of his player, not have a teammate attempt to do it. But, coming back to the question: what does it mean to be tough?
As a coach and teacher I see toughness all the time and it abounds in our high school sports.
Our students and athletes demonstrate toughness each and every day in their lives. Yet, what I fear is that a misguided example of tough is what our youngsters see and hear from the NFL. I fear that some coach or coaches will adopt the banal mentalitity exhibited by players such a Clabo or Incognito or the unnamed Miami coach who thought Martin needed to be toughened up. But tough is all around us, and we do not need the NFL to define tough for us.
Tough is the parent who makes his or her children do and act the correct way.
Tough is the teacher who makes his or her students do the work without excuses.
Tough is the neighbor who lives with a terminal illness every day.
Tough is the student who takes a stand for what is right against his or her peers.
Each day I see tough: the tired but smiling and helpful clerk in a store, the marginalized student walking the hallways of our schools, the mother who works a shift at home before going to a demanding job, and the father who leaves for work in the morning dark knowing that it will be dark when he returns home.
These are examples of tough for me, and some NFL players, in my mind, have it all wrong. Being tough and a man or woman means accepting responsibility for a job and doing it as well as possible day in and day out without fanfare. Toughness is a state of mind, not a large body making noises about being tough, being a man, or brotherhood. That is the language of insecure bullies.
You want to see tough? Look around, it is everywhere. You don't need a game to see it.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.