Apparently it's more controversial in America to call a white man a racist than it is to call a black man a "n*gger."
When it came to light that Richie Incognito had bullied Jonathan Martin until he walked out of the Dolphins facilities to seek help, the word from inside NFL locker rooms (often on condition of anonymity) was that Martin was "soft" and needed to "toughen up." When we learned Incognito's bullying included racial slurs, people started calling the guard a racist. Then several of his teammates, past and present, came out of the woodwork to claim that was false.
The message we're getting is that when an NFL player is called a racist name in the locker room, it's all, "Pussy needs to toughen up." But when one gets called a racist, it's all, "Whoa, whoa, whoa guys. Let's consider our words and be civil about it."
Over at Sports Illustrated, Jim Trotter's collection of anonymous quotes from inside NFL front offices and locker rooms has come to signify the unfiltered response from inside the league.
"I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person," said one personnel man, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man!"
What fascinates me is how quickly the conversation among players and personnel people turned from Incognito's actions to those of Martin, who has not spoken publicly since the story broke last week. Again, no one defended Incognito, but they did wonder why Martin didn't "man up" and handle the situation one-on-one.
"This is another ploy in the league's 'player safety' book. Incognito knew who to try. You never heard anything like this come from John Jerry or Mike Pouncey. Instead of being a man and confronting him, he acted like a coward and told like a kid."
(Over at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a piece about how ridiculous it is for people to call someone a coward while hiding behind anonymity, by the way.)
So NFL players and personnel were perfectly fine with throwing public accusations around that Martin was a "coward" and "soft," but when people started calling Incognito a racist, the response was to rush to his defense.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Mike Poncey gave an off-camera interview to ESPN's Chris Carter in which he defended Incognito:
"They don't feel as if he's a racist, they don't feel as if he picked on Jonathan repeatedly and bullied him, but if they could do it all over again there would be situations that they might change but they're very, very comfortable with Richie," Carter said.
"They think it's sad, not only that Jonathan's not on the football team, but also that Richie is being depicted as a bigot and as a racist."
The Miami Herald had a more revealing article in which several Dolphins players say they considered Incognito an "honorary black man," (Deadspin's Greg Howard has a piece on how ridiculous of a notion that is) and several more came to his defense:
"I don't think Richie is a racist," cornerback Brent Grimes said.
"Richie Incognito isn't a racist," tight end Michael Egnew said
Then there's this: "Another former Dolphins employee told me Martin is considered 'soft' by his teammates."
Now maybe we should discuss whether the word "racist" has any place in this discussion? (Spoiler alert: yes it does.)
Do we have any evidence to believe that Richie Incognito would disown his theoretical future daughter if she came home with a black man? No, we don't. Do we think if he started a business in his post-NFL career (something to maybe start thinking about, by the way) that he'd hire white employees over more qualified minority candidates? Not clear. Are we to believe that Richie Incognito keeps his extra white hoods packed neatly in his attic next to boxes full of his Nazi memorabilia collection? No, probably not.
Do we know that Richie Incognito used a centuries-old, highly offense racial slur? Yes. Do we know he meant it in a way that was specifically racial because he called the biracial Martin a "half-n*gger"? Yes. Do we know that in context, the comment was intended as an insult? Yes. Is that racist? Of course.
Now, you might say, "Well, Incognito didn't mean it as a sincere racist insult, and just wanted to get a cheap rise out of Martin in a misguided attempt to tough him up." In the same way you might say, "Incognito only called Warren Sapp the n-word on the field in a cheap attempt to get him to commit a penalty." But then what you have there is a white man tapping into and leveraging the legacy of racism for his own personal gain. Which is still, yes, racist. Sorry, there's no way a white man can call a black man the n-word as an insult and have it not be racist.
We can sit here all day and talk about syntax and theory and whether that means Incognito is a racist (noun), is racist (adjective) or whether just his actions were racist (adverb), but that doesn't change the fact Incognito is being called a racist, and is being, well, "soft" about it. He's hiding behind silence and letting his teammates come to his defense. He's being a coward, and, by NFL logic, this should be "something you have to handle like a man!"
If he wanted to be a "man" about it, he'd at least have come out with an apology right now to all the African American and especially people of mixed race whom he offended when his remarks became public. Instead all he's had to say is that he's trying to "weather the storm." Pussy talk!
Maybe someone needs to leave a threatening voicemail to get him to toughen up.
"Hey, wassup, you half-racist piece of shit. I saw you on WSVN, you been 'weathering the storm.' I want to shit in your fucking mouth. I'm gonna slap your fucking mouth. Gonna slap your redneck mother across the face. Fuck you, you're still a cracker. I'll kill you."
Because clearly there's nothing more motivating than racially-tinged insults and death threats.
Now, maybe this is the point where we point out that Martin's bullying took place in the locker room, and Incognito is being criticized in the outside world. But if we're following the locker room logic correctly, the logic that says Martin is too "soft" to belong there, then we are led to believe that the NFL locker room is some hyper-macho fantasyland where only men of the highest physical and mental toughness succeed. Then the real world should be some Pretty Pretty Princess cakewalk in comparison.
That, of course, also ignores that Martin too is being criticized in the outside world for not being manly enough.
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The fact is that we have NFLers anonymously throwing criticism at a man who was called a vicious racial insult. They then go on the record to defend his bully and make excuses for use of the slur. Something about that seems wrong and absurd.
It's time for Richie Incognito to toughen up. He needs to publicly take responsibility for his own actions and apologize to those he offended. That's what a real man would do. Anything else is just soft.