Are Moral Courage and Clarity Going “Incognito”? Bullying, Hazing, and Abuse in American Sports

This week, increasingly graphic and sickening reports of alleged abuse by Miami Dolphins’ lineman Richie Incognito against his teammate Jonathan Martin have emerged. I haven’t been able to get this report from, which I first saw yesterday, out of my head:

Transcripts of voice mail messages and text messages left for the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin by teammate Richie Incognito indicate a pattern of racial epithets and profane language.

Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that the following is a transcript of a voice message Incognito left for Martin in April 2013, a year after Martin was drafted:
“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

Part of what’s been so disturbing about all this is that many are framing it as a story about “harrassment,” “bullying” and “hazing,” which has allowed self-styled tough guys inside and outside the NFL to question Jonathan Martin’s toughness and manhood. They seem to think that this is all kid stuff, something that no real man ever has to worry about, simply by virtue of his physical strength.

That makes me concerned that in our laudable attempts to enumerate and eradicate all forms of harassment, bullying, and hazing, we seem to be losing sight of the real target and a basic moral category: abuse. Make no mistake, what we’re talking about here is abuse–racist and misogynist abuse. If we call it something else, we risk opening the door to a genuinely terrifying moral ambivalence and confusion.

The more we equivocate, the more we excuse abusive and grotesquely violent behavior, the more we lose our way. In our homes, schools, and locker rooms, we need to keep reminding athletes of all ages that they live and dwell among the rest of us, in a society that values human dignity and rejects abuse in all its forms.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Football, Popular Culture, Race, Raising Boys, Social Justice, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Are Moral Courage and Clarity Going “Incognito”? Bullying, Hazing, and Abuse in American Sports

  1. Rick Simpson says:

    Well and truly said, Tom.

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