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The Lake News Online
  • Guest column: What does it really mean to be a man?

  • You might have heard about the Miami Dolphins' current soap opera involving teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, and speculation over whether Incognito may have bullied and threatened Martin to the point where Martin left the team.
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  • You might have heard about the Miami Dolphins' current soap opera involving teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, and speculation over whether Incognito may have bullied and threatened Martin to the point where Martin left the team.
    Even if you aren't a football fan, stick with me. Those who have played in the NFL say locker rooms are the ground zero of a unique brotherhood. Of the thousands of men who play football every year, only about 1,000 play in the NFL at any given time. It forever elevates those who reach the pinnacle.
    Those who have played in the NFL say that giving younger teammates a hard time fosters camaraderie, similar to a fraternity hazing. Incognito's defenders claim that the roughneck language he allegedly used in phone texts to Martin, a second-year player, is part and parcel of that camaraderie.
    Incognito claims that Martin sent him crude texts, too, and tells reporters that they are close friends and "It's just how we communicate."
    To be sure, friendships among young men involves verbal head butting, mutual abuse and "your mother" insults that women would never tolerate. But if what Incognito says is true, why did Martin not only leave but also show others the texts? Should younger players be expected to underwrite veterans' trips to Las Vegas and to strip clubs, just to prove their fidelity?
    Incognito blames the NFL's Darwinian locker-room culture for the controversy — but not enough to help put a notch in it. Considered one of the dirtiest players in the league, he was kicked off his college team for misbehavior and is notorious for intimidating people with his size.
    Yet more players, black and white, seem to be on Incognito's side rather than on Martin's, the unspoken suggestion being that Martin fails not only the definition of an NFL player but perhaps the definition of manhood itself.
    As players become faster and stronger, the NFL has evolved into one of the most violent sports since the Gladiator Games. Rightly or wrongly, those who play it often are referred to as heroes and warriors who epitomize manhood.
    But what defines manhood? Must its measurement always include strength, or aggression, or how hard you can hit?
    Last month, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy claims he was yelled at by some assistant coaches for helping an opponent up from the turf. And some hard-knock NFL retirees bristle at the handshakes and hugs that occur at the end of every game.
    This week, we celebrated Veterans Day to remember the millions of Americans who have served their country. Reporters frequently find that the most heroic soldiers are those who are most reluctant to recount their experiences.
    Page 2 of 2 - If you can convince some men to share, practically all of them admit to being afraid, even terrified, during combat. Does such an admission diminish their manhood? Of course not. So why doesn't this standard apply anywhere else in society?
    Instead, we have boys and young men believing that fearlessness, violence and physical prowess are the only ways by which manhood is acceptably defined. As long as we continue to hold up professional athletes as the gold standard, no one should be surprised by this.
    Some observers have said that Martin could become a league pariah for breaking the code. At least one former NFL coach has called him a "baby."
    There's an undercurrent of disbelief that a 350-pound lineman could be bullied by anyone, coupled with suggestions that surely, something else must be going on with Jonathan Martin. Why is it so hard to believe that a man — even a big one — can be wounded by words?

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