By Byron Hurt
The emerging story of hazing gone wrong on the Miami Dolphins football team reveals a practice that has been on-going in the NFL and other traditionally all-male spaces for decades. Offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who suddenly left his team, allegedly a victim of hazing, demonstrates that even men who already have money, fame, status, and masculine credibility can feel powerless and emotionally wounded when they are targeted and abused by men who have even more money, fame, status, and masculine credibility.
For some professional football teams, bullying and hazing are an accepted part of the culture. Of course, hazing is not exclusive to boys and men. Girls and women haze, too. But when it comes to male culture, hazing is a ritual that most young boys and men are taught to accept, because “real men” are supposed to take it, man up, and meet the challenges that other men have faced – whether it’s on a sports team, a fraternity, a social club, a marching band, or in the military. To those who have never experienced being hazed, the strength and power of this aspect of male culture can not be overstated.
Most guys go along with hazing or bullying without challenging it because we don’t want our “man card” revoked by other men who have more status and power, or, because we seek to earn their masculine respect. So we accept the abuse. We desperately want the social currency and privilege that comes along with exclusivity, and entrance into “the club,” so we accept the risks associated with being hazed. We are also afraid that other men will think we are less manly if we fail to meet the challenges that come along with hazing. Snitching on our abusers is the ultimate sign of weakness, and betrayal.
In leaving the Miami Dolphins football team, Johnathan Martin has subverted a long-held belief system and tradition that relies on male silence and compliance. It is a practice that intentionally preys on easy, vulnerable targets. Based on current information that has recently surfaced, the alleged bully, offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, greatly misused his social status and power as a member of the Dolphins by exploiting, belittling, disrespecting, and verbally assaulting his teammate. More than likely, he was not alone. Incognito, who also hurled racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs at Martin, was swiftly and justly suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins organization.
Martin, on the other hand, showed strength and courage, not weakness – as it has been suggested – by not allowing the abusive behavior to continue.