Even Incognito is a victim of the system of violence

I was listening to my favorite radio station the other day, Sports Radio 94WIP. The program that was on was the Middays with Anthony Gargano and Glen Macnow. They were discussing the latest ESPN-produced story: Richie Incognito’s alleged harassment, racial and otherwise, of one Jonathan Martin. It’s a sad story about an uncontrolled locker room that lacked the leadership to create a culture of respect and discipline. Good players like Incognito, go unchecked (in fact, he is also known as the “dirtiest” player in all of the league), and a guy like Martin is humiliated, shamed, and frightened into resignation. (It is noteworthy that much of the conflict and harassment happened over text messages and voicemails.)

The Prof (Macnow) and the Cos (Gargano) were discussing bullying. And Anthony, a South Philly born-and-bred man, was critical of bullying at large, but said it was our responsibility to teach our children to not “run away” or never “lay down.” Gargano, of whom I am a huge fan, articulated that there are “bad people” in the world and they need to be stopped.

I disagreed. As a disciple of Jesus, my instinct is to turn the other cheek, like Jesus tells us to. To love our enemies, like Jesus instructs to. The path of nonviolence is a righteous one. And my basic argument for such is simple: everyone thinks they’re the victim. We’re all bad and we’re all good. It’s not an either/or situation.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the most pressing example. But worldwide conflicts everywhere show us that violence begets violence and the way to stop violent acts is for someone to forgive, to work toward reconciliation, and peace.

Though Incognito’s actions are inexcusable, it is obvious that at some point, he was the victim of some serious pain. So in his effort to “never lie down,” he never learned to truly forgive his wrong-doers and now Jonathan Martin is the victim of his bullying.

Reconciliation, especially of the racial variety, is hard and difficult to overcome. For me, feelings of rage often accompany how I feel with I am racially targeted or discriminated against. It’s hard to turn the other cheek, but it all changes when I actually begin to relate to someone.

I do agree with Gargano, fleeing may not be the best option, so Martin might have diffused the situation if he actually confronted Incognito in an assertive, but not violent, fashion.

The truth is that most conflicts just end when relationships begin. Face-to-face dialogue, unmediated, but just personal, with tears and all, is the best way to break down barriers. I don’t know if Incognito and Martin were really at the point where they could relate face-to-face, but I think the burden falls on their leaders, notably their head coach, to help them do it.

The “tough guy” culture isn’t acceptable in any environment, even in an NFL locker room. Men so often don’t know how to express themselves except through violence or sexuality! Have you ever watched a group of teenagers attempt improv comedy (in the style of Whose Line Is It Anyway?)? Almost inevitably it winds back down to wrestling or sexual humor. Furthermore, those “dude hangouts” that women are excluded from? It doesn’t take long before the violence and the sexually-charged humor begin. It just seems like men fail to be intimate without just reducing themselves down to their animal instincts, or whatever you want to call it. Of course, this is also why our sexuality is so defining for our identities, too.

In a culture that doesn’t offer us many opportunities to express ourselves emotionally, let’s resist one-upping each other. Let’s find another way to identify. Let’s learn to relate. Learn to be intimate in ways that are bigger than just violence or sex.

We were training about 30 people last Monday on Circle of Hope’s antidote to a culture that lacks safe places. We were teaching about our cells, the critical building block of our church. The basic idea is that there is enough of Jesus’ love to go around and his hope is best delivered personally. Cells are another chance at family, they exist for those yet to join, they are safe places. The process, even though it begins with inclusions, doesn’t end with mere tolerance. People actually need to be transformed.

My advice to Incognito? Try being in a cell for a while. Instead of thinking you are too cool to be in one. Try out being in a safe circle of ten devoted to following Jesus and making room for the next person. Be loved and included and accepted, and then challenged to be something more than whatever you’ve reduced yourself to.

Richie’s profession keeps people out of his inner-circle, or rather his quarterback’s. So being in a cell might be hard, you’ve gotta let people in, instead of pushing them out of the way all the time. It isn’t a surprise that a game devoted to violence and ripe with military analogies has incessant bullying, even among teammates, but I think Jesus can even change that. And I think it might just start with a real relationships, with Him and with His church.

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