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November 16, 2013

Martin/Incognito situation should make us think

Race and sports are strange, but familiar bedfellows. Recently the two have gotten front-page coverage during the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation. The drama between these two offensive linemen has sparked racial debate along with a bullying discussion that nobody saw coming. Prior to this debacle, Incognito was known as a dirty offensive lineman who made cheap shots on opponents, and Martin was looked at as a struggling second-year player from Stanford.

In the weeks since Martin left the team for personal reasons and the Miami Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely, a new aspect of this story has surfaced seemingly everyday. At first, the story looked like that of a young player in the NFL, who couldn’t handle some teasing from teammates and appeared to have some mental problems. That narrative was evaporated when Martin released a voicemail from Incognito, in which the veteran offensive lineman was heard calling Martin a “half-N---er” along with threats to kill him and slap his mother.

The story exploded when no one saw this turn coming, not even the Dolphins brass. Coach Joe Philbin was immediately pushed centerstage and people wondered exactly what kind of environment was being fostered in South Florida. Oddly enough, Incognito, who was seen in a video at a South Florida bar spouting that same racial epithet, had the full support of many of his African American teammates, including fellow offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, wide receiver Mike Williams and linebacker Cameron Wake. Some of Incognito’s black teammates even gave him the title of an “honorary black man.”

Those words make you take a step back and shake your head. For many people the N-word conjures up strong emotions. If anything you would have thought black Miami players would have backed up Martin and not the white man using this word, but the exact reverse happened and this action did not go unnoticed. Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, who now serves as an analyst for CBS, was extremely adamant during Sunday’s show that acceptance of this behavior from the black Miami players was extremely disrespectful to their ancestors, who worked so hard to preserve a level of respect in the African American community.

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