“Positive motivation is ‘Get the...up! You’re dragging, man! Pick it the...up! Suck it up!’ Because you feel like you know the guy. You feel like it’s your brother, and you’ve got to make that connection so that you can come together.”
To retired NFL two-time All-Pro tackle Kyle Turley quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times article by Sam farmer, telling your brother - your little brother, “just like I would to my little brother in a pickup basketball game” - to “suck it up” and to “get the...up” is not only not wrong. It is expected.
At least in the National Football League. As Turley explained, when Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito - I thought this was a joke at first! - left messages laced with racial slurs and profanities on his African-American teammate Jonathan Martin’s phone, Incognito wasn’t being a bigoted bully. Apparently reflecting what many NFL players think, Turley posits that there was nothing wrong with this behavior and also that it is possible that Incognito was carrying out orders from his coaches to “toughen up” Martin.
Turley says it flat-out. “Positive motivation in the NFL could in the real world be considered bullying.” He goes further, saying, “It’s aboard for the real world to accept this [behavior], and nobody should, but this is not the real world. This is football.”
Perhaps this isn’t surprising or even disturbing. Lately, we have been hearing a whole lot about the violence in playing the game and how many players are left with physical and mental disabilities, sometimes quite severe. A lawsuit resulting in the NFL pledging millions of dollars for disabled retired players, with many questions as to if the amount is enough, was big news, and there was lots of buzz about the PBS Frontline report called “League of Denial.”
A few days after the Turley article appeared, Farmer had a story about a former NFL player whose eye was severely damaged in an initiation ritual. As the player described it, the rookie players had to run down a hallway lined with older players who hit and kicked the passing rookies in every way and as much as they could. This player had almost made it through the gauntlet when he was hit in the eye with a sock filled with coins.
This was called an accident, but what is definitely disturbing is that this roughness and bullying is seen not only as not wrong and as expected but as an important way of bonding. As Turley put it, “You feel like it’s your brother, and you’ve got to make that connection so that you can come together.”
Even more disturbing, as Bill Dwyre pointed out in a column accompanying the Turley article, people decry the bullying and the injuring that goes on in the NFL but continue to contribute to millions and millions of dollars going to the league (broadcast deals, tickets, merchandise, etc.). Most chilling, though, is this strange way of bonding and where it leads. As Dwyre writes, referring to a reader commenting on Jonathan Martin who left the team, “‘The other guy’s a wimp,’ says Fred from Fresno. ‘Too gutless to fight back. I sure wouldn’t want to go to war with him.”
So that’s what all this tough playing and rough bonding, which you know happens not only in the NFL, is all about? Being able to go to war?
Meanwhile, Incognito has filed a grievance over his suspension. And I love what Dwyre had to say to the reader: “Whatever, Fred. As soon as you get off the radio, go outside and tear some wings off a butterfly. You’ll feel better.”
Seriously, though, it’s terrible enough that the butterfly is getting hurt. If only that was all that’s being damaged.