Saturday, February 15, 2014

When give-and-take is take-and-cope

I've blogged a couple of times about the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullaffair. My take on it was that it's (to use a football term) a slam-dunk in favor of Martin. Of course, this being a macho locker-room story on the Internet, there's been a double-dose of blaming the victim. Subsequent coverage of their interactions was far more sympathetic to Incognito — because a broader swath of text messages suggested that the jabbing was more give-and-take — but more recent subsequent coverage swings the pendulum back toward Martin (because even more texts came out, this time unfiltered by Incognito's people).

Let's settle this now.

Abuse is complex. It's not defined exclusively by 100 percent satanic behavior by the aggressor and 100 percent cowering by the victim. The bullied often fight back, and even more often attempt to establish equilibrium. The aggressor also has moments of humanity. I'm not surprised to hear that Martin and Incognito occasionally connected as confidantes, any more than I am to see people in an abusive relationship getting along at times. 

It's also not shocking that Martin would sometimes react in kind via text message or social media — I'm familiar with the defense mechanism at play there. I was bullied as a boy, but there were times I laughed along with my tormentors or even instigated the attention. It was, on some level, an attempt to regain control. Nothing less, nothing more.

I don't doubt Martin did everything he could to handle his environment, but concluded that it was too much to overcome. Even sympathetic accounts of Incognito's behavior show him to be a casually racist and sexist insult machine who lasered in on people he deemed weaker than himself (sensitive players and team employees fearful for their jobs). In other words, a Class-A meatheaded bully. Even if turns out Martin was faking it the whole time (which he wasn't, because why?), Incognito is definitely in need of sensitivity training, if not much more help. Every time he opens his mouth or posts another macho, self-defeating tweet, he makes that clear. Anyone in a captive audience with someone like that is inevitably going to develop some coping mechanisms.

That, more than anything, is the huge takeaway.

No comments: