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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jonathan Martin's NFL Career Is Over

Workplace bullying is a problem -- nothing new about that, either -- but the story of Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin makes a mockery of true victims of workplace intimidation and sexual harassment.

Martin claims that bullying by a Dolphins teammate has forced him to retire from the game of professional football.  The counterclaim is that the teammate (and others) were just trying to toughen up Martin for the occupation he chose -- and for which there are undoubtedly thousands of other men who would be willing to endure abject public humiliation for the opportunity to replace Martin and at a fraction of the salary Martin was receiving.

Let's make a few points clear.  Although this is an era where the proper lines are rarely drawn, lines separating proper from improper, workplace from therapist's couch, private matter from broadcasting "too much information" from Oprah's couch, we need to draw lines and bold ones at that.

The workplace is a sacred place.  It is a place for work.  Sports lockerrooms are no different -- sports are about achievement, about results, and those who do not achieve results (winning) are soon gone.  People who interfere with the workplace objective get fired and behavior in the workplace which undermines group harmony (the concept of "works and plays well with others" or "fitting in") is criticized, discouraged or outright prohibited.

However, the current controversy has drawn in a lot of attention. That indicates there are much larger issues than that of football players not getting along. The Martin controversy is just one scene in a much bigger drama which attempts to undermine and destroy the results-oriented, achievement-driven nature of all competition, of capitalism itself, and ultimately to attack and subjugate the men who are considered evil for creating that construct. 

Cultural elitists and emasculators deride sports as just a game, as in a game for kids.  That is a subtle way of trying to emasculate the men playing them by implying they really are men-children or boys playing a child's game and thus are not adults, they certainly are not mature, henceforth they are not worth the respect accorded or earned by, well, real adults. (A movie analogy comes to mind: The derisive term "man-animal" used by the condescending character played by John Travolta in an obscure movie called Battlefield Earth.)

These people (no, not the man-animals, I'm talking about the cultural elitists, the Ivy League snobs, the ones who profess to only watch PBS, listen to National Public Radio and read The New York Times) refuse to accept professional and even collegiate sports as legitimate businesses, because they wish to attack and destroy the concept of achievement and specifically of male achievement.  This is nothing less than an attempt to reorder the entire concept of achievement, of worth, and even of gender roles.  It is a stone thrown in the battle to define men punitively and solely along the terms favorable to women (and certain women at that, mind you), terms defined by women and used only by women.

The Jonathan Martin whine-fest is an opportunity for this crowd to undermine the achievement aspect of not only sports, but any institution created, inspired or run by men. This is an attack on business, on capitalism, on any male hierarchy which prizes achievement as measured by objective metrics like, well, winning.  The strategy in this assault on the Y chromosome is to attack the cultural and fraternal ties that lead to effective and often winning, if not championship, teamwork. 

The supervillain in this hysterical drama is Martin's "tormentor," teammate and Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito.  Mr. Incognito has become the quick stand-in to signify all that the man-haters hate about men. All the hatred, all the venom, all the vengeance, all the pain women have felt, all of this is being directed at Incognito -- who is privately assuredly gaining in stature by holding firm on this issue of just trying to motivate an underperforming co-worker.

I will predict that the so-calling bullying by the villainous, horrible man is nothing more than a teammate trying to improve the productivity of another teammate not quite pulling his weight. The object here is to win, to achieve, and for heavens' sake we cannot have that, hence the attacks on Incognito for being a terrible bully. To be clear, the object being to win, to improve production, and bullying is counterproductive in that it clearly reduces performance.  But bullying is also not about performance enhancement; it is about control, domination and causing the suffering of its victim.  None of those objectives appear to be at work here.  Instead, this seems to be a contrived claim by an underperformer who needed an escape hatch and is now seeking to capitalize on victim status.

Whatever Martin is claiming Incognito said or did, the object was about producing winning and it seems Jonathan Martin was at least perceived as not being anywhere near close to tough enough to survive in an environment where men are paid six-figure and seven-figure salaries to go to near-literal war each weekend -- and where all of this is funded by fans who are not paying thousands of dollars for season tickets to watch the politically correct hold hands, eat Quinoa burgers and sing "Kumbaya."  Whether the politically correct police like it or not, mental toughness and, yes, the ability to withstand verbal abuse from opponents on the battlefield (er, the football field), are not desirable attributes; they are necessary qualities to survive in the occupation of professional football.  The trash-talking in professional sports is not incidental; it is often a critical feature of the contest.  Players seek to annoy their opponents to gain a mental advantage.  Anything to win.  And someone with a known weakness for a thin skin will become a huge target for abuse, not because of cruelty but because the stakes are very high.

Achievement and results are paramount.  What Martin is trying to do is, indirectly, to attack and destroy the results-oriented end game of all of capitalism, of all competition.  His claim to victim status also rests on flawed logic which, if accepted, would wreak havoc on our society as we know it.

First, it implies that all competitors (indeed, everyone) is entitled to perform in the field of their choosing.  Simply stated, this means anyone who wants to run onto the field at the Super Bowl has a right to do so! Ergo, the objects of my desire, my fantasies, become my rights.  That is fine for the utopians, who ignore the true nature of a right as something inalienable and not infringing on the rights of another.  Instead, the "Martin rights" require others to bear the burden of his self-declared right. If Johnny wants his victory lap, by golly, we are obliged to give it to him. (Cue up Lady Gaga's "Applause.")

By this tortured and defective logic, what protection would our laws afford the object of obsessive desire?  Would our laws allow, or mandate, that the poor sap who finds himself the target of desire of a Genevieve Sabourin (just sentenced to prison for stalking Alec Baldwin) must submit to her?  What would be the limit? Would there even be limits?

What is missing here, folks? It is the simple concept that achievement is earned.  You want that promotion, you have to work for it. You want to win the Super Bowl? You have to work really hard -- and work in tandem with your teammates -- to even get close to it.

The audacity of Jonathan Martin is the demand, not spoken necessarily but implied, to revise the rules and requirements of the occupation to suit his eggshell-skull sensitivities.  It is narcissism gone mad on the sports field.  I want to be a winner, therefore I am a winner, and how dare you question me otherwise! But Martin has no right to receive special treatment; no one does.  No one has the right to a desired outcome, not in a free society.  Jonathan Martin is not the Pharaoh.  Jonathan Martin is not, ahem, special.

The PC police would have you believe the thin-skinned player is a victim. I consider that player the weakest link, the vulnerable player who is almost certain to be targeted by the opposition also trying very hard to win. Martin must be considered unsuited for professional football and his NFL career should by all rights be over. It should be, if there is justice and respect left for the concept of objective achievement. Maybe some team executive will be pressured into signing him.  But don't expect his new teammates to embrace him.  Jonathan Martin is not tough enough to take professional sports -- and may not be tough enough to take many workplace environments, for that matter.  Worse, by demanding special treatment, he disrespects his teammates who have been held to -- and achieved -- a higher standard.

In an environment where winning is paramount, pressure is high and individual financial rewards are also high, Jonathan Martin's presence is now likely to undermine group harmony and the teamwork necessary for high achievement in pressure-packed situations. Martin is simply a man not likely to help a team win.  

There are thousands of players who would gladly sacrifice bodily functions and future health -- many have made those sacrifices, knowingly, for decades -- for a shot at the National Football League.  Almost every current NFL player has buddies who didn't make the cut.  Don't expect any of them to welcome Jonathan Martin with open arms.

Martin is no victim.  He is exploiting his failure under a cloak of victimhood.  I'd bet he already planned his second career -- perhaps as a commentator on the aggression in sports -- before he disqualified himself from his first career. That's right, I think this is all contrived, all plotted out.  I'm telling you readers out there not to be suckered into the sob story.

Jonathan Martin was a failure. There is no shame in not being able to "cut it" in the National Football League.  But the attempt to cash in on weakness and contrived victim status should be greeted with deep cynicism and rejection.

From here on out, Martin should get from the sports world the reaction which he has earned.


Eric Dixon is a New York City-based attorney and consultant who handles matters in New York and New Jersey.

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