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NFL’s hip-hop/prison culture doomed Jonathan Martin: NFL Unfiltered Week 10


After further examination, Jonathan Martin’s lone chance for survival in the Miami Dolphins locker room involved cracking Richie Incognito in his face.    

Not because fists are the most effective way to handle bullying, or because, like many opined, a man has to stand up for himself.  It is because violence is more relatable than thoughtful conflict resolution to the men who play professional football, especially black men.

However, to better appreciate the dynamics of the NFL’s culture, it is important to gain some perspective on the sociological rules governing America’s favorite pastime.  

Consider, the NFL is a league dominated by black athletes and most of those men hail from challenging socioeconomic environments.  Intellectual development often pales in comparison to the strategies required to survive difficult living conditions.  

Therefore, the Martin/Incognito scandal, goes far beyond bullying.  

It speaks to the parallels between prison hierarchy and the Dolphins’ locker room, particularly as it relates to the disproportionate amount of young black men in both cultures.  It also helps explain in some measure why Martin’s decision to avoid violence isn’t more appreciated within the black community.  

Dr. Harry Edwards, renowned sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, describes a poignant “prison-to community-to locker room” cycle that makes Martin’s existence tenuous.  

In much the same way Andy Dufresne struggles for survival in the film The Shawshank Redemption, Martin spent most of his 551 days with the Dolphins failing to assimilate.  He simply never played his position off the field the way the code dictates a black man should. Photo: (Getty Images/AFP/File, Joel Auerbach)Particularly, if reports of him trying to befriend Incognito, his main tormentor, are correct.    

Unfortunately for Martin, he failed to respond in a way worthy of respect from black teammates, who likely viewed him as spoiled and privileged before he arrived.      

Martin entered an environment full of black leaders who already labeled him soft and declared Incognito an honorary negro by virtue of little more than stupidity, and the prevailing culture.  

But this isn’t merely a Dolphins issue. Black men, who see Martin as an outsider, perhaps even a threat, fill locker rooms throughout the NFL.  After all, if he sounds like “them” he probably thinks like “them,” too.  Therefore, they cannot trust him.  

Look no further than New York Giants defensive back Antrel Rolle for a general feeling among many of the NFL’s black players.  

"Was Richie Incognito wrong? Yeah, absolutely," Rolle said. "But I think the other guy is just as much to blame as Richie, because he allowed it to happen. At this level, you're a man. You're not a little boy. You're not a freshman in college. You're a man. So I think everything has its limits. There is no way that another man is going to make me pay for something that I choose not to pay for."

"This is just an incident on its own. Hopefully he is able to bounce back and recover from all that happened," continued Rolle in discussing Martin. "And take awareness of that, man, you're a grown-ass man. You need to stand up for yourself."

"There's no punking that should go on on the NFL level. Hazing is one thing. Bullying is another thing."

Rolle, like so many young black men, thinks with a type of prison mindset. Responding to any challenges swiftly and often with physicality is the norm for him.  In his world, a man never has any other choice. That’s why he melds perfectly into an NFL locker room, while Martin is a pariah.  

Martin’s Stanford education and Harvard lineage pales in comparison to the absentee father, dysfunctional family dynamic most black players bring to the NFL. His background never prepared him for an environment where Incognito received implicit permission to use the “N” word because he is “blacker,” and more worthy of respect than Martin is.  His failure to fully appreciate the culture of his locker room is perhaps his most egregious error.  And his efforts to “dumb” himself down and “keep it 100,” likely led to increased frustration.

Consequently, Martin quit trying to win a game he didn’t know how to play. Now, black men both in and out of NFL locker rooms see him as something even worse than soft.  They see him as a snitch- a whiner who got what he deserved.  

Even if Martin chooses to return to the league, he is likely to meet with lukewarm acceptance, assuming he performs at a high level on the field.

Conversely, Incognito is the wounded soldier, hurt by the establishment and betrayed by his brethren.  If he receives another opportunity to join a team, his new locker room might greet him with a collective “myyyy N-word,” as a term of endearment, like Alonzo Harris often does in the film, Training Day.   

As more black men with few alternatives fill NFL rosters, players like Jonathan Martin must prepare themselves for jealousy and resentment. They must realize they are the outliers, the guppies in a world full of sharks.  

They must understand young black men don’t always support one another because of shared skin tone.  Instead, support often comes from shared experiences and certain behaviors within the group.  

Regrettably, Martin couldn’t decipher it all, so he left. Proof to the men on the yard- they were right to question his mettle.  

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-Nick Foles demonstrated his lack of arm strength on two of his three touchdowns passes.  

-If you ignore the numbers and simply watch the games, it’s apparent every team in the NFC East is about the same or worse than they were a year ago.  That’s difficult to fathom, considering all the energy and resources committed to improving a franchise.  

-DeSean Jackson and Chip Kelly’s buffoonery after a big play is amateurish and makes Kelly look more like a special teams coach than the man in charge of the sideline.  

-As the 3rd quarter began during the Panthers/49ers broadcast, FOX showed a graphic featuring Brian Billick’s recommended halftime adjustments for each team.  It included “someone make a big play.”  I am not making that up.  

-The 49ers’ inability to consistently complete a forward pass illustrates the prevailing arrogance of so many general managers and head coaches. Instead of addressing the wide receiver position shortly after Michael Crabtree tore his achilles in May, the team chose to do nothing.  They don’t deserve to play in the Super Bowl, not that they have to worry about this season.  

-Add the Dolphins to the list of teams in need of a quarterback.  Like the Bengals, it’s going to take them another two years to figure realize it. 


Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.


Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter @EMyersIII


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Getty Images/AFP/File, Joel Auerbach