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Fight or Flight: Why Didn't Jonathan Martin Defend Himself?

Psychological reasons why Martin didn't fight back.

By Ricardo A. Hazell November 07, 2013, 10:39 AM EST

Jonathan-martin

The idea of toughness in the American lexicon − a rigid, inflexible, almost inhumane construct − is based upon the outdated idea that a man's masculinity goes hand in hand with his ability to be virtually unfeeling in the face of physical and emotional adversity. Oftentimes, these adverse circumstances are manufactured for the sole reason of evoking the desired masculine reaction. And if that reaction to adversity occurs in a manner deemed less than socially favorable, he is admonished for not being "tough" enough. The twisted situation surrounding former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin is a real life example of this scenario.

There are reports circulating that say some on the Miami Dolphin's coaching staff encouraged Incognito to "toughen up" Martin. This flies in the face of the organization's earlier statement saying Martin's claims of being bullied were "speculation.” As new facts come to light, it appears as though the entire circumstance was institutionalized, with the Miami Dolphins organization acting as the governing body.  And if this is true, then the Miami Dolphins are culpable in this entire scenario.

In a recent article by Peter King of Sports Illustrated former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Lyndon Murtha had this to say about Martin:

"From the beginning, when he was drafted in April 2012, Martin did not seem to want to be one of the group. He came off as standoffish and shy to the rest of the offensive linemen. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye, which was puzzling for a football player at this level on a team full of grown-ass men. We all asked the same question: Why won’t he be open with us? What’s with the wall being put up? I never really figured it out. He did something I’d never seen before by balking at the idea of paying for a rookie dinner, which is a meal for a position group paid for by rookies. (For example, I paid $9,600 for one my rookie year.)"

"We’d have dinners and the occasional night out, and everyone was invited. He was never told he can’t be a part of this. It was the exact opposite. But when he came out, he was very standoffish. That’s why the coaches told the leaders, "Bring him out of his shell. Figure him out a little bit."

As someone who is familiar with  the team dynamic it is understandable that Murtha would have felt it was odd for Martin to not want to be part of time honored team traditions. However, Murtha's thoughts regarding Incognito's voice message break things down even more.

"That’s where Incognito ran into a problem. Personally, I know when a guy can’t handle razzing. You can tell that some guys just aren’t built for it. Incognito doesn’t have that filter. He was the jokester on the team, and he joked with everybody from players to coaches. That voicemail he sent came from a place of humor, but where he really screwed up was using the N-word. That, I cannot condone, and it’s probably the biggest reason he’s not with the team right now. Odd thing is, I’ve heard Incognito call Martin the same thing to his face in meetings and all Martin did was laugh."

A locker room full of the descendants of African slaves in America and no one told Incognito his language was inappropriate?  An extreme level of ethnic cowardice the likes of which I cannot imagine any other ethnic group ever tolerating. Perhaps it is because, unlike most ethnic groups, we use the "N" word in earnest amongst ourselves and among individuals who were accepted within our fold. "Honorary" black people is a silly concept I can't possibly fathom. In the immortal words of comedian Paul Mooney, "Everybody wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black".

When the story broke last week, the blogosphere was immediately ablaze with stories admonishing Martin for the manner in which he handled the situation. He reportedly laughed it off many times or otherwise attempted to avoid physical confrontation. Suddenly, every 125-pound blogger became lion-hearted in boasting what they would have done to Incognito if victimized in a similar manner. Martin, 6'5" and weighing 315 pounds, is an enormous athlete by most standards. But size does not necessarily correlate to physical aggression. Some would argue that individuals actually become less aggressive due to their mammoth size, particularly those of African American descent, consciously contradicting the stereotype of the scary, large black guy. But it appears that is exactly what Dolphin's GM Jeff Ireland wanted Martin to be - The big, scary black man.

We can only speculate why Martin waited six months to bring Incognito to task for his behavior and it appears, at least from a distance, that the usage of the word was not even the proverbial "straw" that broke the camel's back. New reports say that Martin checked himself into a hospital after leaving the team, due to "emotional distress." But if he's looking for medicine or therapy, it's likely because of issues that dig deeper than this incident, triggered by Incognito's trauma. One could possibly say he might have skin color issues. Especially since Martin is part of a percentage of biracial Americans, a group where some do not self-identify as being black or African American. For example, let's consider the infamous Tiger Woods "'Cablinasian" quote on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997. Woods created a new racial category for himself to describe his being one-fourth black, one-fourth Thai, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth white and one-eighth American Indian. According to Tiger, being called "African-American" bothers him. ''It does,'' he said. ''Growing up, I came up with this name. I'm a 'Cablinasian.'''

With this in mind, perhaps the dreaded "N" word would have a less sting or none whatsoever for individuals like Woods and Martin. Not identifying as African-American would mean one has disengaged from the history associated with the people, including the dark past of that controversial word.

On the other hand, it would not be a stretch to hypothesize that Martin did not react physically because he feared retribution from his coaching staff as well as other teammates. Perhaps he believed the non-aggressive, passive approach were the way things are dealt with and done by blacks attacked racially in Miami, Florida, and throughout the dirty confederate south.

More mature, and logical progressives would agree that Martin showed a tremendous amount of strength by not simply punching Incognito in the face when hearing the "N" word. But all signs are pointing to Martin being afraid. Incognito, via his tactics of psychological warfare, was clearly in his head. And had Martin retaliated, the Dolphins' organization could have easily spun the circumstances, accusing him of being a psychologically fragile, loose cannon, angry black man. Whenever a cog lashes out against a malfunctioning construct it is always the cog that is taken to task.

Watch mainstream media, and it seems as if race was not the reason Martin was singled out. However, the use of the "N" word, during what appeared to be a sanctioned hazing, makes the Miami Dolphins players and coaches just as heinous as Richie Incognito himself. The audacity of white guys going on record saying it was not a race-based incident. The hypocrisy of anonymous black players saying Incognito is an "honorary" black man all point to, yet a gain, the issue of American race, prejudice and the split outlook on the usage of the "N" word, which as we're witnessing - gets swept under the carpet and ignored for another day. But not here at The Shadow League.

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Ricardo A. Hazell is a veteran journalist with over 16 years’ experience honing his craft.  His works have been featured in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Root, Black Beat magazine, EURweb.com, Bleacher Report, Allhiphop.com, Hiphopdx.com, Black Collegian magazine and scores of other reputable print and digital publications. He excels at long form writing. Versatility and community insight are his specialties. Mr. Hazell currently covers Entertainment, Current Events, and Sports for The Shadow League. You can follow him on Twitter @NikosMightyDad

 

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