A Risk Manager’s Take on the Richie Incognito Scandal

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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92 Responses

  1. I’m going to hold off on making an in-depth comment, but in regards to the question, will the NFL turn soft without hazing, I’ll just drop a link to this comparing the NFL’s (lack of) action on hazing to the action of the Marines: http://www.sbnation.com/2013/11/5/5065834/jonathan-martin-richie-incognito-dolphins-rookie-hazing.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      My problem with Ufford’s analogy is that there is a far different sociological and ethical dynamic going on between, on the one hand, a large group of 18-20 year old men (and women) who largely haven’t been out in ‘the real world’ and have at best been ‘average’ (at worst, marginalized) during most of their upbringing, and on the other hand, a much smaller group of 22-24 year old men (and only men) making at least 10 times as much money and have always been (often literally) the big man on campus.Report

  2. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    Nice link, Jonathan.Report

  3. Avatar Glyph says:

    Richie Incognito is the highly improbable name

    I assumed Richie was related to Guy.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Disclaimer: I’ve never been good at sports or really interested in sports. I love the fact that my alma mater was a Division III school with no football team. We also did not have a Greek system and parties were dorm affairs but anyone could come. The biggest dance at my school was called the Homo Hop.*

    It seems to me that the comparison to the Marines were apt. Professional sports are our version of gladatorial combat and this is probably most true in Football and Hockey which have violent elements built into the game (along with MMA and Boxing of course.) There are fights in baseball and basketball but many to most basketball and baseball games can happen without a punch being thrown. A lot of fans seem to have a vested interest in the “manliness” of football. I’ve known people to unironically think that the game was better when players did not wear protective gear or the gear was a simple leather helmet. Modern equipment is too safety oriented for their minds and this feminizes the game.

    What does hazing represent in these cultures/groups? My guess (and I’m not a psychologist) is that it is a form of dues-paying plus a bit of “this was done to me and I will do it to you” and general inertia. No one likes the idea of unearned success even in industries with less overt hazzing.

    A lot of people hate on Lena Dunham because they think her success is largely or partially because her parents (especially her mom) are famous downtown NYC artists. Lena Dunham is talented but I would bet some powerful people in movies and TV collect art by her mom and this helped her career. How many young women are just as talented as Lena Dunham but wasting away in dead-end jobs and can’t catch a break because their parents were accounts from South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, etc? Probably a lot.

    Another example is the actress Amanda Peet. Her acting career was middling but her husband produces Game of Thrones and she decided to write a play. The play is or is about to be produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, the top non-profit theatre in NYC. Most playwrights don’t get their debut at MTC. I know a lot of people fumming about this even if they admit that Amanda Peet probably wrote a decent play.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Disclaimer: I’ve never been good at sports or really interested in sports. I love the fact that my alma mater was a Division III school with no football team.

      Hey! Something about popular culture we can agree on!

      What does hazing represent in these cultures/groups? My guess (and I’m not a psychologist) is that it is a form of dues-paying plus a bit of “this was done to me and I will do it to you” and general inertia.

      I assume this is what most people mean when they use the phrase “character-building”Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        There is a long literature on the social and organizational functions of hazing:

        http://www.aldocimino.com/cimino_2011.pdf

        There are several complex reasons for the existence of hazing, but one of the most well studied is the idea that requiring suffering of people seeking to become full members of a group both prevents the less motivated or those who only seek to take advantage of the group from even bothering to try, and it causes those who do enter to have stronger ties to the group because they suffered to get there. In fact, that second one is one of the classic findings in the literature on cognitive dissonance.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      I thought the objection is that more padding encourages people to take more stupid risks with their own and others’ bodies. i.e. it was safer when you did not wear full body armour.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    If my client were, say, a pharmacist. And that pharmacist got hired on to work at a franchisee of RXPlus! Pharmacy. And a more senior pharmacist at RXPlus! Pharmacy, one time and one time only, ten weeks into his training into the workforce, called my client at home and left a voice mail message that said:

    Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] shit in your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.

    …I’d be jumping out of my skin waiting to get through the administrative hoops necessary to file a racial harassment lawsuit as soon as I possibly could.

    If it also turned out that there was a culture of this sort of thing happening, all the time, to newly-hired pharmacists, and that RXPlus! Pharmacy knew or should have known about this sort of thing and did nothing meaningful to prevent it, I’d make it a point to tell the other lawyer from the outset, “Dude, I do NOT intend to settle this case, like, at all, so if you’re not going to put something really damn good on the table by way of a settlement, let’s just dispense with that talk right away. When can I depose your human resources director?” Because that’s pretty much a perfect case.

    Why should an NFL player making the league minimum his rookie year be treated any differently than the junior pharmacist? Why shouldn’t the NFL have to fear workplace harassment lawsuits, the way a pharmacy does?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      An excellent question, Burt. The obvious immediate answer, of course, is “culture.” But that just brings up a bunch of questions “why” questions about the culture that are just as hard to figure out. It’s not like most of these guys make enough money to keep them in wealth for more than a few years, and many of them walk away with chronic medical issues for their trouble.

      Since I wrote this, it has come to my attention that it’s now being revealed that Incognito was actually acting on instructions from management with is harassment of Martin.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Tod,

        By this logic, is ANY type of “hazing” acceptable? Making the rookies sing in the cafeteria, carry pads, etc? What if these were written out as professional duties and responsibilities? Does that change it?

        Can hazing exist that isn’t harassment?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Sure, and in fact it happens a lot in the corporate world. Entry level employees who get their first promotion in a white collar job, for example, are usually expected to buy a round for their peers. And pranks are pretty common in any industry.

        In order to qualify for harassment, an activity needs to meet three criteria:

        1. The behavior has to be unwelcome.

        2. The behavior has to be what a reasonable person would consider harassment.

        3. It must be reasonable that a person would feel offended, intimidated or threatened by the behavior.

        In a whole lot of cases that get to court (the vast majority are either dismissed or settled), “reasonable” is the point of contention.

        But none of the behaviors I have seen described by any of the people involved would be seriously considered “non-reasonable” in court, I would think.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Kazzy,

        Why is there any need for hazzing?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I sort of figured as much, but you are the expert. The “unwelcome” part is tricky, because the NFL could claim that what they do isn’t “unwelcome” because the vast majority of the people suffering the abuse accept it as part of the gig. Obviously, Martin is not among them. How does on establish that the behavior was “unwelcome”? Can the employer point to a delay between the act and the complaint as evidence of it being accepted? Common sense would tell me know, given the complexities of logging complaints in most workplaces.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @newdealer

        I don’t think there is any “need” for hazing, though I’m sure there are some folks who do. Part of the difficulty is that terms like “hazing” and “bullying” are rife for abuse… by both sides.

        For instance, at my school, we have a certain evening event in which teachers are assigned roles. Some roles are much more desirable than others. It is common practice to give some of the worse roles to the newbies, usually with a joke made about “earning their stripes”. This could probably fit someone’s definition of hazing. But I struggle to think that putting someone in charge of the square dancing room instead of the ice cream sundae room qualifies as harassment.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        t. The “unwelcome” part is tricky, because the NFL could claim that what they do isn’t “unwelcome” because the vast majority of the people suffering the abuse accept it as part of the gig

        IIRC, “unwelcome” is defined by the harassee — not the harasser. So it really doesn’t matter what the NFL thinks on that point.

        Reasonable is the turning point for a lot of this because the opinions of both sides (and society) get to weigh in.

        Which is why, as noted, “getting stuck working the crap job” is not considered harassment insofar as the ‘crap job’ is an actual “job” and thus you getting assigned to it doesn’t constitute being ‘unreasonable’ — somebody has to do the job. Worth quitting over, perhaps — but not illegal or lawsuit material.

        However, racial harassment and death threats? Not reasonable anywhere, under any circumstances outside of “Required to play the part of ‘harassed employee #2 in a film”. 🙂Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        @kazzy

        There is a very big difference between rookies getting less than plum assignments and harassment. Entry-level employees do the less desirable but still necessary work. This is true of new lawyers and true of everyone else.

        A senior partner might be able to say “I need you to stay late” when the entry-level employee had night plans. They are not able to call the entry level employee up and use racial insults or any other insult really.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @newdealer

        Thanks. And just to be 100% clear, I am appalled by what Incognito was doing to Martin and not just because of the blatant racism. Just want to point that out, lest my “jock” reputation precede me and it be assumed I am defending this behavior. Rather, I am just trying to understand where/how we ought to draw a line, since lines are exactly what are needed to avoid future such instances of this behavior.

        What really troubles me is the myopic view that “football culture” has in terms of what constitutes toughness… or strength… or manliness. Nothing about what Incognito does says “toughness” to me. It says “asshole”. Martin? He’s the tough one… he weathered the storm, restrained whatever anger or frustrating I’m sure was boiling up inside him… and sought proper outlets and support when he felt it necessary. Yet it is he the one who the NFL labels “soft”.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Fortunately, it’s a short-term problem: 20 years from now none of them will remember any of it.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Legally that is a very interesting question. My guy feeling is that there should not be a difference and the NFL and Dolphins should be liable.

      My other gut feeling is that this puts me in the minority view for some reason and most people will have the gut feeling that the NFL is different. Probably because of Tod’s mention of culture including the tough-guy, warrior nature of Football as a sport.Report

      • @newdealer

        I, too, am pulled two ways on this (although I don’t have much legal knowledge). I also share your view of/attitude toward professional sports.

        I don’t think the fact that other “cultural” changes have been imposed on football without killing the sport means that combating the hypermasculine hazing culture won’t change it. (Even so, there ought to be a line somewhere, somehow.) I’m not sure it’d be a bad thing to change this aspect of pro football, but then I would say that, because I’m not a fan.

        In answer to your question of Kazzy–“is hazing necessary”–I’d speculate that something like hazing probably has a function in most workplace cultures and that this function is arguably necessary. That doesn’t mean it needs to go to racism or to threats of violence, or anything Richie Incognito did (by the way….I first heard of this yesterday, and I thought “Richie Incognito” was the anonymous name the guy used on twitter or something). But I do think there can be a dues paying stage in any work or professional environment. I’m thinking, however more along the lines of your example of a newbie having to work late, or the ritual where a grad student has to sit before 5 professors and “defend” a manuscript that they might or might not have actually read.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think that most people would say the NFL is different are the same people would see it more like the marines, fraternities, or other groups where some sort of physical toughness and stoicism is highly prized. I’m pretty sure that industries like finance, where a different type of machismo thrives, also have their own form of boisterousness.

        Lots of people do not necessarily prize gentleness, especially in men. They live on this sort of boisterious toughness and machismo that hazing is part of. Its pretty contrary to Jewish culture, so I’m not surprised that you don’t find it acceptable at all.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Lee,
        maybe your Jewish culture. Not mine.
        My dad used to go to school having to hide
        his bruises, after his dad beat him up for
        getting bad grades.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @leeesq

        I would contend that there are still healthy ways for ultramacho industries to haze. Make the rookies carry the bags or the pads… acts of physicality that don’t cross over into abuse or harassment. Make them do the Oklahoma drill against the baddest mo’fo on the team. In other words, do the sorts of things that can positively impact what happens between the lines.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Kazzy,
        do you think hazing is a good thing?
        I see far more to argue for brainwashing (military style) than for hazing…
        Brainwashing at least is to say “you’re all in this together, now act like a unit.”
        Hazing seems prone to abuse, and to differentiate the newbs.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Kim,

        I think it depends on how we define hazing. Having the rookies stand up and sing at lunch so everyone has a good chuckle and they can show they’re a good sport? I think that can be valuable. And if you want to call that hazing, I’d say that particular form of hazing is a good thing.

        If we define hazing in such a way that it is limited to abuse or harassment… well, no, it is by definition a bad thing.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      @burt-likko

      What are the chances that Martin has a binding arbitration clause in his contract and how would you get around that if he came to your office?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        There was an article on ESPN that discussed this. If I remember/understood it correctly, it said that given the nature of the abuse, the NFL or team couldn’t hide behind the CBA. It is possible that the writer knew details of the CBA as to why this was the case rather than a general rule.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        As @kazzy said, I’d first look for a superseding agreement, and after that I’d look to see if the arbitration agreement complied with Armindariz or whatever its equivalent was in the applicable state (Florida, in this case). And if I couldn’t get out of it, then I suppose I’d have do the case through arbitration. But I’d so much rather do it in front of a jury.Report

      • Well, you can pretty much rest assured that the CBA is compliant with applicable arbitration agreement rules – it’s as far from a contract of adhesion as you can reasonably expect to find. But my sense is that the CBA probably doesn’t cover this type of harassment, which really doesn’t implicate labor issues (as opposed to employment law issues). To the extent that Martin is deprived of game checks without his consent, the CBA would be triggered, but it’s doubtful to me that the CBA would cover employer liability in a Title VII harassment case that seeks primarily emotional distress and/or punitive damages, and as far as I’m aware, the Dolphins (as horrible an organization as they increasingly seem) don’t seem to be trying to screw him on his game checks.

        The CBA, as I understand, also has significantly more limited arbitration clauses than an average employment agreement, which is one reason why the NFL was forced to negotiate in the concussion class actions (because of the Concepcion decision, class relief is almost never available in arbitration).Report

    • Avatar Roger Ferguson says:

      Burt – your analogy is great, but for a reason that may be overlooked in most of the discussion of this issue. Your facts appear to assume that issues of race are involved, which would distinguish it from the general situation of an NFL locker room in which, apparently, younger players are hazed on principle and without any necessary discriminatory intent or effect. But isn’t the racial component of the Incognito/Martin affair exactly what creates a legal problem for the NFL? I am not an expert in these matters, but “harassment” in the workplace requires an element of discrimination (involving some protected class) in order to be actionable. Wouldn’t the situation be entirely different if Martin and Incognito were both white, and the offending voicemail were wholly devoid of racial references? That isn’t to say the conduct would not be “wrong” in some broader sense, but I’m not sure if there would be the potential for legal liability.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        If Incognito had found some race-neutral way of hazing Martin, maybe it wouldn’t be a Title VII case.

        But there was race involved: Incognito’s opening play was “[Y]ou half-nigger piece of shit.” He’s put his own head in the noose. That was the hard part.

        Then, “…shit in your fucking mouth … slap your fucking mouth .. I’ll kill you.” Thanks for pulling it on real snug there by linking the victim’s race and a threat of violence. Step on over here into this little square, would you?

        Then, “I only did it because management asked me to.” Oh, look. You’re a few inches taller now.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:

    A recent report indicates that Incognito was told by a Dolphins coach (either HC Philbin or his position coach) to “toughen Martin up”. While such a vague phrase leaves room for interpretation, if that indeed proves to be the case, it seems to put the Dolphins and/or NFL even more in the cross-hairs.

    Also, FWIW, Jason Scukanec’s story doesn’t quite pan out. It appears he was on the practice squad for the Bucs during the ’02 season and was in training camp before the ’03 season. Both squads featured white OL. So unless he was referring only to players on the practice squad (which I can’t find data on), it seems there is at least some embellishment going on, which makes it hard to take his opinion seriously.

    Most importantly, thanks for (yet another) great piece.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    My firsthand knowledge of what goes on in a football locker room is basically butkus. (Get it?)

    In other words, you don’t know dick.Report

  8. Next question… From what I read, the kinds of things that players on the opposing team yell at you are much worse than what Incognito left in the recording. In your opinion, is that also illegal under current law?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Do players actually yell racial slurs during games? I would have bet that that’s something the NFL would not tolerate (that is, in public).Report

      • Avatar daveNYC says:

        Not to mention that yelling “I’m going to kick your ass.” at an opponent in a game is far different than yelling “I’m going to kick your ass.” at a co-worker outside of the workplace.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Didn’t Bil Romanowski get in trouble for something like that?

        Every now and then you’ll see a player go off the rails unexpectedly and, when questioned, he’ll say that an opposing player used a racial epithet. So, I’m sure it happens, but not with any kind of regularity.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        A dear friend of mine who was an offensive lineman back when he played football said that the best way to get a false start call against the defense was spitting. The refs never see it and it’s a great way to get the other guy to charge you.

        As such, I’m sure that *SOME* of that is to just get into the other team’s head and make them give you five free yards.

        Not all of it, of course… and not that that excuses any of it.Report

      • Avatar Fish says:

        Ahem…the defense can’t get called for a false start as they’re allowed to move around as much as they want before the snap, but they’re not allowed to come across the line of scrimmage and make contact with an opposing player, which would be offsides. Back before the rules were changed, defensive players were allowed to cross the line to try to get offensive players to flinch, which would be a false start penalty, but if the offensive player didn’t move and the defensive player was across the line when the ball was snapped, he would be guilty of being offsides. Now, if a defensive player crosses the line and causes an offensive player to flinch, the penalty is on the defense (inducing, I believe it is called).

        Geez, I would have thought Tebow would have explained all of this to you…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Tebow tried, but he did it via parable, which Jaybird’s pagan mind was too dim to understand.Report

  9. I am pretty much a total football outsider, if not an outright detractor. I am already on the record in this forum as thinking it a dangerous sport, and one that I (when asked) tell parents I think is bad for their children. I beggars credulity that anyone can watch it and not know, on some level, that it is wreaking significant and/or cumulative damage on players’ bodies. (Even I will admit, however, that it is an interesting sport, one that seems to rely far more on strategy than baseball. I can understand its appeal, albeit abstractly.)

    What little I have heard from this whole fiasco, much of it from this excellent piece, simply plays into my own (perhaps) unfair biases against the sport. It seems an example of not merely excused thuggish, gratuitously violent behavior, but actually encouraged. (Another recent example was that whole “bounty” scandal.) It makes everything that seems brutal about the game itself just a slightly-sublimated version of the vicarious brutality that informs its appeal.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      In regard to concussions, it’s not just football. We may be on the cusp of wholesale change in the way we do sports.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I think I’ve mentioned ’round these parts that the only concussion I’ve ever had occurred during a basketball game. However, there’s some evidence that the problem with football goes beyond concussions. Basically, at least some positions may be doing damage to their brain with every play, even in practice (in fact, especially in practice).Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Before I clicked your link, I assumed it would be this.

        It could be taken out of the game, but I am sure some people would object.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Glyph, I remember a story a few years ago that soccer players lose several IQ points over the course of their careers, because of the frequent heading.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Glyph,

        Headers in soccer do get mentioned in the article, even though the focus is on volleyball. I’m not sure how you take out headers and keep soccer what it is, and that’s worrisome.

        As to volleyball, one of my two concussions came from banging my head on the floor. There’s also the problem of balls coming at you at up to 50 mph. I have a student right now–a freshman who just turned 18 a couple weeks ago–who’s recently sustained her third concussion playing volleyball. It’s putting her at academic risk, and one can only wonder about long-term consequences if she plays her whole collegiate career and sustains a couple more.Report

      • I realize it’s anecdotal, but here are my personal observations re: athletes who come in to see me for concussion:

        Football/hockey >> lacrosse > soccer > every other contact sportReport

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        W/R/T soccer (the only sport I was ever halfway good at), the game might not change too much for defense and midfield if headers were banned – at that range, a chest trap and/or fancy footwork should generally be sufficient.

        It would definitely change the game for offense at close quarters to the goal (where the maneuver is most useful).

        The problem is, if the US decides to ban the maneuver (even just at the youth level, where it may be most critical), that flushes US ability to compete internationally down the terlet, since even if we allow our adults to practice the maneuver, they won’t have had a lifetime of practice like international players had.

        At least in US football, we can make “unilateral” changes to the game if we want to. Soccer, not so much, at least if we care about competing internationally.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Glyph
        I highly doubt that hitting something with your head is something that has a critical age and needs to be trained within a critical interval.
        afaik, the only sport that actually has a critical age is hockey.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Kim, any task requiring physical strength, muscle memory, and eye/hand (/head) coordination will improve with long practice. Unless you think you can immediately redirect a ball, traveling in excess of 50 miles an hour, to go where you want it to go using ONLY YOUR MIND.

        If you are correct, there’s nothing stopping me from becoming a world-class athlete! I’ll start today!Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        Regarding volleyball, I’m not an expert, but I don’t see any reason why adding helmets would change the substance of the game at all.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

        Well CTE as a problem isn’t just about concussions, is it? Concussions are the most visible and worst head injuries coming from football, but it’s more the many many many sustained micro-impacts from just playing the game and practicing that seems to be the problem.

        Which makes me wonder if they’ve done similar tests on sumo wrestlers, who do basically the same fucking thing as linemen, except maybe with a bit more weight, no padding, and just as much force.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Nob, right, it’s not just the concussions. In fact, it’s primarily not the concussions.

        I don’t know of any study with sumo wrestlers, but that makes sense.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Great, I feel another culture war is coming on between the people that want to make sports safer and the people that want to keep things they way they are and avoid any namby-pamby talk about safety and health.

        Dangerous athletics and sports have been a part of Western civilization since the Greeks in antiquity. We have known for generations that many sports easily result in serious injury or death. There was a similar football scandal at the start of the 20th century when it was still closer to rugby. Somehow, I don’t think that Western culture is going to abandon dangerous sports or do much to make them safer. They are an ingrained part of our civilization.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        What Nob said. But since it’s almost universally called “The Concussion Crises”, expect that to become more and more obfuscated.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Glyph,
        Practice is far different from critical periods of learning, like what we see in bilingualism.
        to whit, it would be very easy to have a few feeder schools that take in soccer players, and train them from a young age for the sport, and the sport alone.
        (Crosby went to one of these for hockey, I believe, otherwise I wouldn’t know they exist).

        And we could have reasonably safe recreational hockey for the rest of the kids.Report

      • The degree to which non-concussion cumulative brain injuries contribute to CTE is academic. Literally. Until there is some discernible manner of detecting these micro-traumas on the sidelines or in a medical setting, concussions are going to have to serve as some kind of proxy. I suspect numerous enterprising investigators are hard at work even now on ways of measuring the effects of these impacts, but right now concussions are the best we got.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @russell-saunders

        I believe they are doing work with sensors in helmets to get an idea of the forces absorbed during the course of a game. It is still only a proxy since we don’t know exactly how the brain responds to each incident, but we’re getting closer.Report

      • “In regard to concussions, it’s not just football. We may be on the cusp of wholesale change in the way we do sports.

        Could you expand on that? Anything that involves strenuous physical activity, even without contact, comes with unavoidable risks. The only sport I still participate in is fencing. We’ve managed to take the obvious risk — actually getting stabbed — pretty much out of it. OTOH, there are bruises, abrasions, sprains, muscle and tendon tears, and the occasional closed-head injury including concussions. Concussions are almost always a result of falling and hitting the back of your head on a hard floor. Masks are already rather heavy for some of the smaller junior fencers, so closing and padding the back isn’t reasonable. Padding the floor is pretty much out of the question for several reasons, some of them safety-related. It seems to me that there’s not much that can be done to make fencing safer.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I wonder if, in a lot of sports, including soccer and volleyball, we’ll start to see more and more players wearing the sort of head gear that Petr Cech wears, or something like that.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Michael,

        I think head injuries are a distinct category from most other injuries. Mental “strength” can enable us to live very rewarding lives when we have non-brain injuries, even when those injuries are as severe as loss of limb and mobility. But head injuries rob of us that mental strength, so they can destroy lives more effectively than other severe physical injuries. (As a guy with bipolar disorder and several damaged body parts, I can say that the damaged body parts are mere irritations compared to the effect of the brain not functioning well.)

        And I think we’re just now starting to realize the prevalence of head injuries among young athletes. I don’t dispute what others say above about the problem being far more severe with football because of the constant lower-level impacts, but I suspect our growing awareness from football will trickle over into our understanding of other sports, and we’ll increasingly question whether we’re causing long-term cognitive harm to our kids. Part of this is the decreasing number of children people are having, which causes them to value each more highly and invest more in them (drawing from r/K selection theory).

        Of course any prediction of the future should be taken with several grains of salt. It’s just a hunch I have, and time will tell if I’m a prophet or a pretender. 😉Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Chris,

        Not that I don’t think head protection would be good, especially for head-floor collisions, but isn’t part of the problem the brain getting jarred around inside the head? That is, if a hard hit volleyball makes your head snap back, does head protection do much, or is your brain still getting smacked around due to inertia? Perhaps I’m way off here. It’s certainly not anything like an area of expertise for me.Report

      • @chris Since Cech is a goalie who doesn’t need to head the ball but who has to worry more than other positions about head-to-head contact, I don’t know that his headgear is likely to make sense in the long run. Wayne Rooney’s, however, may be a different story: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/soccer–wayne-rooney-gets-major-assist-with-headband-from-small-u-s–company-183328131.html

        @jm3z-aitch Head protection would reduce the impact of whatever object struck the head, which would in turn dramatically reduce the recoil from that impact.

        Keep in mind also that to the extent we’re concerned about a very small number of lifetime concussions specifically (as opposed to CTE, which doesn’t seem to be much of a problem outside of football and boxing), it seems like a good chunk of the worst harm comes from not treating them properly when they do happen, sending players back out before they’ve had a recovery period of at least a few days, sometimes more.

        One thing I’ve kind of been wondering a bit lately – and maybe someone with an engineering background can chime in here – is why football helmets have such a hard outer shell rather than a foam outer layer. Isn’t having a hard outer layer kind of like getting into a car accident without a bumper?Report

      • …is why football helmets have such a hard outer shell rather than a foam outer layer.

        One purpose of the rigid outer layer — and it’s not just football helmets that have it — is to help spread the impact over a larger area. When you look at helmet-to-helmet contact in football, the areas that are in contact are quite small, so the pressure at that point is very large. Spreading the impact in turn allows a larger volume of padding to be deformed, absorbing more energy in the process. At least in terms of protection for things like concussion, the whole goal is to (a) reduce the amount of energy transferred to the head by using it for other things (like deforming foam padding) and (b) to spread the transfer over a greater period of time and distance, reducing acceleration. There are lots of compromises — like the requirement that the padding is only temporarily deformed.

        A few college teams experimented with practice helmets that were padded on the outside as well as the inside. IIRC, they were a mixed bag. Marginally better at absorbing impact (energy), but also tended to be “stickier” than the hard plastic and added to neck-twisting torque in some sorts of collision.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        A round, hard-shelled helmet also encourages glancing blows as oppose to direct blows. Two billiard balls hit and unless it is a direct, head on hit, they glance off each other and their energy is transferred in other directions instead of directly into one another.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      It makes everything that seems brutal about the game itself just a slightly-sublimated version of the vicarious brutality that informs its appeal.

      As a football fan, the accuracy of this comment really bums me out.Report

  10. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    In every other industry, people always show that they can adapt; to suggest that NFL players can’t is an insult to NFL players’ maturity and professionalism.

    Is it possible to insult the maturity and professionalism of someone who treats his colleagues like that?Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    @tod-kelly @burt-likko @mark-thompson

    http://espn.go.com/blog/miami-dolphins/post/_/id/2748/pro-incognito-fins-leave-no-room-for-martin

    Given the unique nature of the NFL, Martin can’t just pick up and leave the Dolphins for another team. If he feels that the Dolphins’ environment is too toxic for him, is there a means for him to break his contract (with or without collecting full payment) and seek employment with another team? It would seem unfair to require him to stay with the team, though that is precisely what sports teams do in most situations when they have a guy under contract and things go south.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      My own 2 centavos:

      Martin will never play in The League again. He’s toxic. No one will have him. Because of that, he’ll seek damages from both the Dolphins as well as the NFL.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Maybe I’m weird, but the more I hear about this story, and see people inside the league trying to make Martin the problem, the more I’m thinking I just can’t watch the NFL anymore. Which is really saying something.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Kazzy,

        You are being decent. Everyone else is being weird.Report

      • Martin will never play in The League again.

        Michael “Dogfight” Vick. If Martin’s good enough to start, or even be the fourth linebacker in the rotation, and available at the right price, he’ll play.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Kazzy, I agree. My wife and I were talking about this the other day and she said that all the arguments defending Martin sound exactly like the old “boys will be boys” justification for sexual assault. It’s weird.

        Michael, unlike Vick, the issue here isn’t with the public and public perception and public forgiveness. The problem is “the locker room.” I just don’t see it happening, tho I’d love to be wrong in that prediction.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        that all the arguments defending Martin

        Oops. That’s an unfortunate mistake. I meant: “all the arguments defending Incognito and criticizing Martin sound exactly like…”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @stillwater

        I was talking with Zazzy about it, who didn’t really know all the details, and eventually she just said, “Wow… this is really bothering you.”

        For me to be bothered… by football??? Wow… indeed.

        One thing I can’t stand is when we blame the person who exposes the problem instead of the people who are the problem. Whether it is hushing the person who calls out the drunk uncle making racist jokes at Thanksgiving dinner or pointing at someone like Martin as the person who created the issue, it is such an assbackwards view on the world.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Kazzy, I’m right with ya on that. To me, this scandal has created an even greater disincentive to watch games than concussions has. And that was a pretty big disincentive. I don’t know that it’ll change my viewing habits right away (I’ve been drifting away from *serious* football fandom for a while now) but the “locker room culture” argument – which sanctions and encourages this type of hazing – is repellant to me.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The Commissioner could do quite a lot should he choose to do so. It’s not quite “he can do whatever the hell he wants” because Martin and the NFLPA would have to sign off on it, but he has the power, in theory, to transfer Martin’s contract to a different team provided appropriate compensation goes back to the Dolphins, which might be in, for instance, the form of a draft pick.

      But he won’t do this. He surely doesn’t want to create a precedent of players claiming harassment whenever they don’t like their teams to try and go somewhere else, because if he did that the draft would become meaningless and the draft is one of the principal means that the league ensures parity between the teams and thus keeps the quality of the NFL’s product high.

      That, at least, is something objectively related to the business in question. But putting boundaries on the hazing of rookies, that seems like it wouldn’t have a significant impact on the game. Doesn’t mean you can’t be tough on a player as a motivational means. It does means you have to tell people to not use racial slurs or threaten violence beyond the reasonable limits of the game, and then back up that instruction with the credible threat of discipline, which when you think about it is setting the standard of excellence in interpersonal conduct so low that there is a significant danger of tripping over it.Report

  12. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

    So here’s a question.

    If this sort of thing is so prevalent in the NFL, do we really have any reason to believe this doesn’t go on in the NCAA, too?Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Alleged quote from one of Martin’s “teammates”:
    ““We are going to run train on your sister. . . . She loves me. I am going to f–k her without a condom and c– in her c—.””Report

  14. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9939308/richie-incognito-jonathan-martin-miami-dolphins-bullying-scandal?mboxSession=1383879602571-86740

    Really liked this story. The toughness alpha male bullshit needs to go. It infects every part of American discourse and it really is causing serious problems. The NFL is just one example out of many. Military suicides are another part of it. So are mass shootings.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      This was a really fantastic piece.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      That was a well-written piece.

      You guys know I’m not much of a sports guy, so per Nob’s question about whether the NCAA has similar issues I can’t say. I tend to suspect it’s not as intense – for me, the Grantland piece resonated with observations that Balko and others have made w/r/t US police militarization – the idea that when you keep up-armoring guys with heavier gear, and using warlike rhetoric and metaphors all the time, then it shouldn’t be surprising that some of them start to psychologically feel like they ARE at war, and maybe act accordingly. And all rules are off, if it’s war.

      In the same way it seems many of our “warriors in blue” have forgotten that whole “to serve and protect” thing, I wonder to what degree some of these “gridiron warriors” have forgotten the whole “Jesus, it’s just a game” thing.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Grantland is often awesome, and that piece is space awesome.Report

  15. Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

    It is interesting to see what happens when people fear the “culture” (i.e., the toughness) of a place will decline. I can think of a few examples: doctors working crazy hours, allowing gays to serve openly. There is usually an accompanying culture of never-complaining, which works out very nicely for those in charge, no?Report

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