These people make it sound as if it’s as easy as reducing this situation to a referendum on toughness and cowardice within the locker room culture of a football team without consideration for the actual details of the case and the people involved.
There’s a racial angle here — if you’ve heard the voicemails, you can decide whether it’s ignorance, a hate crime, or somewhere in between — and while there’s already whispers about whether Martin’s sexual orientation played a role in all of this, I look at it as an employee who was isolated and made to feel defeated at his workplace. His teammates referred to him as “Big Weirdo”, they made him pay for meals and trips to Vegas that he didn’t even attend himself, and over time, innocent jock humor and rookie initiation tactics turned into something more evil and sinister, and the culmination of all that caused Martin to finally break down mentally and walk away.
This story reminded me of a story of my own, because when we’re talking about the workplace, the NFL locker room and the office you work at have more similarities than you think, give or take being dunked into a cold tub.
Newbies are treated with a certain level of disrespect, and often, a level of competition exists as we try to establish ourselves at our job. That desire to succeed and to claim our territory can make people do strange things. But using the guise of fraternizing to bully and terrorize someone at work isn’t posturing for your own future, nor is it fun and games and all part of the tradition of whatever this is; it’s exploitative and has long-term implications for those involved.
It wasn’t at all surprising for me to to hear fellow players almost coming to the defense of Incognito, while opening questioning Martin. This is what I’ve observed in a lot of these cases: if you’re not the one being abused, it’s easy to act as if your level of tolerance is much higher than the victim. Anyone can stand here and tell you they would’ve reacted differently. It doesn’t take much.
People like to talk about standing up for yourself in these situations, even though often times the workplace becomes an environment where you make decisions not out of common sense, but out of what’s in your own best interest long-term as it relates to job survival and career advancement.
I’ve been at jobs where I put up with incompetence and ridiculousness for months. Instead of confronting it, I just put my head down because of a lot of reasons: like the expectation that you’re suppose to give any new job at least six months, or the fact that your resume looks bad if you leave too early, or just out of blind faith that things will get better. When it’s your first time in a terrible workplace, you condition yourself to believe that this is just how things are, and you’re powerless to change it. Conform, adapt, fit in, don’t say a word. It’s easier that way for everyone in the long term except yourself.
When I finally spoke out at the particular job I was at, and voiced my frustrations to my boss, the people in my department that I didn’t get along with got upset and actually took it out on me at a team meeting several days before my last day at the job. It was a meeting to discuss future projects, and I was bombarded with questions that everyone knew I was incapable of answering given my limited time with the company. Nonetheless, several of my co-workers decided to embarrass me. It was an ambush, and they felt better having done so.
Truthfully, I was probably more upset that I went to the vending machine right before I left the building for the last time and my five dollar bill got stuck and there was no way for me to retrieve it because I was never coming back again, but I remember these incidents because they’re not just petty, but also indicative of a general workplace environment that might preach camaraderie and teamwork on a Powerpoint slide, but is actually cutthroat and every-man-for-himself in nature.
So I can imagine Martin telling himself these same things as he was being asked to fork out a ridiculous percentage of his salary for team meals, being ignored, laughed at and threatened. He must have thought: This is what rookies go through, it will get better. I just need to put my head down and carve out a career for myself in a league where contracts are not guaranteed and you’re one injury away from losing it all.
Except, for whatever reason — be it racism, homosexuality, or just because the bullies felt like it — Martin faced so much abuse that he finally reached a point where he had enough. And as the details come out, you almost wonder why he didn’t react earlier.
It’s just another reminder that the workplace, any workplace, can be a very independent domain. Think about what you would’ve done if you were placed in Incognito’s position, in a place where you could exploit your teammates for your own satisfaction. I find it hard to think a lot of us wouldn’t have done the same.
But now put yourself in Martin’s shoes: waking up everyday to do something you love, yet dreading all of it. I’m sure a lot of us would still have our head down, letting things happen while waiting for it to get better.
In the NFL, putting your head down would make you less of a coward with your peers. That’s kind of a problem too.
Footnote, or, about that book project I won’t stop talking about:
1. I’ll probably be doing throughout the season or until the project is complete, I’ll be using the end of each post to tell you about a book project that I’m very close to finishing. I figure if you read all the way to the bottom of these posts, this will probably interest you.
It’s a book featuring my writing and original illustrations from a bunch of really talented artists. You can see some sample layouts here (Kobe, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman). I will be setting up a Kickstarter soon to recoup some of the print and shipping costs, an early estimate of the book will be $20. It’s going to be an entirely non-profit project for me, which my parents will be sad to hear about considering I hold a business degree.
All of this to say, please subscribe to the mailing list by clicking here if this sounds like something you’d be interested in, it’d help me gauge the interest of the project.