Football is a sport where specially-bred mutants are trained into a culture of winked at rape and violence, partly at taxpayer expense, to suffer brain damage in organizations shot through with corruption to produce masturbatory fantasies of victory, power, money, and sex for spectating men so that they can be sold trucks and beer. In this context, the depredations of Richie Incognito aren’t all that much out of line — his behavior is the intended outcome of the system, and if he took it “a little too far,” then maybe he should be suspended, fired, or sent to counseling (fun reality TV concept!) until enough time has passed that he can resume his football career. Michael Vick is still playing, after all.
Probably more telling than Incognito’s bullying, threats of rape and murder, firings from college teams, off-field assaults, allegations of sexual misconduct, and, overall, being the NFL’s dirtiest player is the response from fans, who — if message boards can be believed — mostly blame Jonathan Martin, Incognito’s most recent victim, for being a pussy. (Meanwhile, Incognito’s dad posts racist screeds accusing Martin of being a drug addict and hoping the coach dies of AIDS.) Naturally, there are folks in the football world disturbed by Incognito’s behavior (and probably even more folks worried about what all this is going to cost them), but, in general, football teams need Incognitos because, in the words of coach Mike Martz, “that’s the way the game is played in the N.F.L., obviously.”
When I was a kid, I played football for one season plus two practices. The two practices were in about sixth grade, for the Bengal Tigers in Covington, Kentucky. The coach decided we needed to get in shape (probably true), so we ran 40s for whole practices until we were most all puking on the sidelines. Partway through the second day of this, I ran a final forty to the far end of the field and walked to the car my dad was waiting in and went home. (My dad said he was proud of me.) I suspect that the point was to weed out people who weren’t serious, so it worked.
The other season was for J.V. I, myself, was subjected to constant bullying by the coach’s son, Rick. His favorite activity, when he wasn’t pushing us losers into the fences, was to kick eighth-graders in the balls. We would be running 40s (again), and he would run his, then come back and kick me or another hopeless schmo in the nuts so that we couldn’t run and therefore get further abused by the coaches. The upperclassmen thought it was hilarious, and the coaches couldn’t “see” it. I got through the season through sheer grit, but never went back.
There’s a kind of movement afoot to psychologize Incognito, to talk about his difficult childhood, his dad, his possible mental illness — I don’t doubt these causes, anymore than I doubt that Rick was beaten at home — as ways to understand his behavior. I hope he gets some quality help. But scratch football anywhere, and it is all greed and violence and domination and clan behavior underneath. There’s a line that runs from Stubenville to Miami, right through the corruption of the NCAA, the scandal of the concussions, and the extortion of money from host cities, a line that is getting hard to ignore. Football is the expression of the ugliest parts of the American psyche, and Incognito is just the latest, but not the last, manifestation.
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