I have found the sensationalized story of the so-called bullying of Jonathan Martin by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito an interesting study in human behavior. The story of this conflicted relationship between fellow NFL linemen blew up when when Martin took his problems to the press and the word "bullying" was used. It has given the world a sneak peak into a locker room of the NFL and a study of a unique relationship between two athletes. Many are asking whether this relationship was an anomaly or whether it represents a bigger sample of life in the NFL. Others speculate whether a 350 pound man can really be bullied. Not matter what you believe, there are some things we can learn from the story.
1) Leadership matters
Many of the Dolphins describe Incognito as the leader on the team. He says that the vulgar language was just the way they communicated in the locker room. But as the leader, Incognito fostered this kind of culture by participating in it. He had the power as a leader to change culture but was either an instigator or complacent and allowed it to happen. I don't believe all locker rooms have this sort of culture. I am not naive. I know that the language may not be what I would hear in my world, but this goes way beyond cursing. There are many Christians in the NFL and many of them are leaders on teams. I have a hard time seeing this kind of culture on a team that is lead by strong Christians.
2) Words mean something
What you say, even when you believe your words are said in love or in jest have an impact beyond your intent. For example, I teach in a prison dorm each week which is a Faith-based dorm. There are 56 guys in this dorm living together, trying to learn how to live as Christians. One of the inmates is a short Honduran man who often leads worship in Spanish. He is a positive man who always has a smile on his face and I believe is sincerely loved by the rest of the guys. But he is very short and after he stands to answer a question, there is always someone who shouts out, "stand up"! I know this is said in jest, and a lot of the guys laugh, but why would anyone point out a particular shortcoming over and over? It is a reinforcement of a negative identity and is not the language you want to use to someone you love. We learn this sort of language growing up. It's sort of a way to prop oneself up, to make yourself feel superior by tearing another down. And we can pick up the insecurities of others and often use them to remind them who is superior, even to people we are supposed to love and value, often times our own spouse. The Bible has a lot to say about the tongue and the damage it can do. Proverbs 12:8, Titus 2:8, James 3:5 ...But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. It certainly has set Richie Incognito's life on fire.
3) Real love lifts up, does not tear down.
Incognito claims he said these things out of love for his friend Martin. It is a perverse way to show your concern for a friend. 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds us what true love is...Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I don't find any of the these adjectives of love in the action of Incognito. It is interesting that he describes himself as a good person, yet his actions tell another story. We all can fall into the same trap, thinking we are one thing and yet acting quite the opposite. Often we will continue to live in a state of denial until our actions are spotlighted and brought to our attention. It helps to have another person who can tell us when we venture off course so we don't fall away from what we know is the truth. If Richie had a Christian believer who cared for him, who could stand up to him and speak truth to him, things might have been different. Obviously Martin wasn't strong enough to be that person.
3) Where we get our identity is the key
Eleanor Roosevelt said "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." This is true when your identity comes from Christ. When our identity is Christ, we can overcome any attempt to belittle us. Both Incognito and Martin show their insecurities by their actions and words. If they were followers of Christ, they would not feel compelled to speak obscenities and racial slurs to prove their mettle and toughness and there would be no need to compare themselves to others. A believer's identity comes from what God's word tells us, not what others say. A mature believer should have a healthy perspective of who they are and how they should conduct oneself resulting in a toughness that rises above other's attempts to tear them down.