At a time when we've lost much of our capacity to be stunned, the level of systemic abuse detailed in Ted Wells' report on life inside the Dolphins' locker room is truly stunning. Richie Incognito was a virus running unchecked, several other Dolphins were carriers, and Jonathan Martin contracted the most severe -- but by no means only -- case.
It's tempting to say something far-reaching and wide-ranging about The Game and how its structure and mores retard human development. It's tempting to indict the league and the Dolphins for continuing a tradition of slipshod treatment of mental-health issues through their lack of follow-up after Martin was treated for depression last spring. It's more than tempting to take one last run at excoriating Incognito for his seemingly sociopathic behavior and its ability to flow seamlessly through the daily routines of NFL life.
The Wells report highlights the disconnect between NFL culture and the world at large. Some of this disconnect is understandable, even necessary. It's not a "normal" workplace, and some leeway can be given for the nature of the profession. The Wells report is clear-eyed in its understanding of this world -- its vulgarity and insults -- and yet still comes across as stunned as lawyer-ese will allow. This was a toxic place among toxic places, and Martin -- a man uniquely unsuited to deal with the savagery -- wasn't the only one who was poisoned.
The scene inside the Dolphins' locker room is condensed to this: weakness masked as strength, strength as weakness. Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry were perceived as the strong ones, uniting to torment Martin and others under the guise of toughening them up. Martin was the weak one, walking away from a physical confrontation after determining that it would be detrimental to himself and the team.
Incognito was the "team" guy, right? Member of the Leadership Council, bell cow for the offensive line, self-appointed hardener of the soft, he comes across in the report as a terribly divisive man whose bizarre and disgusting behavior cost the team a starting offensive lineman and subjected it to a phenomenal amount of unwanted scrutiny.
However you want to describe Martin's response to the constant badgering -- abashed complicity, courage, fear -- it's obvious he was a far better example of maturity than the bullying band of brothers that assembled to taunt him.
It's fascinating to learn, through Martin's messages to his mother, that Martin's feelings of inadequacy seemed to stem in large part from his academic success. An upper-middle-class black man with a run of good schools in his background, he was looked upon skeptically, as someone who might commit the unforgivable offense (in Incognito's world) of having more than one thought running through his head at any given time. Martin wrote, "I mostly blame the soft schools I went to, which fostered within me a feeling that I'm a huge p---y, as I never got into fights."