We’ve given our sports heroes too much

The drama that is the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga has not ended yet, but it appears that it might be getting somewhere closer to its finality. Incognito is done of the year and Martin has been away for some time.

And it’s a shame that this even happened at all. This is a reminder that has been repeated over and over again. The macho lifestyle of the NFL has turned certain players into what they shouldn’t be. They feel that they must maintain an image, their masculinity to an extent. Some handle it well, some don’t.

This isn’t to excuse either Martin or Incognito. Assuming what we know so far is true, both are in the wrong. But how much of this case can be attributed to everyone else outside the two?

Did their teammates encourage an environment where bullying is accepted? That you had to be “a man” about everything?

We enjoy the machismo nature of the game. We love the big hits, the spectacular acrobatic catches, the display of strength. There’s not time to be weak. This is a tough sport and everyone has to be tough. We’ve demanded nothing less. And in return, we’ve received more than we wanted.

As this drama unfolds, I just tend to keep coming back to the culture we’ve embraced in the NFL. Is it OK to ask for help? Is it OK to have a “sensitive” side? Or have we put together such an image that anything like that is unacceptable?

I am not saying I am an expert on any of this. I am learning just like everyone else. But I do know that every human is wired differently and certain people do things a certain way. Some people react a certain way. Can we embrace that in the league? Can we even do that for people in society?

Ever since the popularity of sports came into the mainstream decades ago, we’ve gotten closer and closer to our sports athletes. We’ve labeled them heroes. And in today’s day and age, we can even communicate with them in ways unimaginable. We can see into their lives. We get so close, sometimes we demand that they meet our satisfaction.

It’s an unfair approach but it’s a reality that we’ve created. No longer are they people anymore, they become our property. We have treated them as such. We expect them to be a certain way to meet our needs. And sometimes, the athletes listen.

I wonder what sports was like half a century ago where the only way to know about them is to read about their plays in the paper or watch them on TV. The perspectives of these athletes were different. And in a way, maybe it was better.

I don’t know what’s going to come of this case but I do hope that we at least learn that our heroes are human. And maybe we’ll treat them like humans, not some mega hero that we want them to be.


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