New Orleans I always ran track, but in my small New Orleans high school there was no locker room culture there, because mainly you ran alone, putting on your spikes or sneakers to run on the Mississippi River levee or try to glide over the hurdles in the teeny backyard of the school. Playing football in high school was different though.
Team sports try, whether appropriately or not, to push everyone onto the same page. In the mid-60’s, with the coach’s loud lobbying and support, that meant being held down and forced to get a shaved head buzz as part of the ritual of joining the team. No matter how much many of us tried to avoid it, we knew it was coming, or we of course could leave the team. Bizarrely, this was a team of players with little pretense of winning. Coming close for us would define a victory, and I don’t remember us having any my senior year. Being the only integrated public school – and team — in the city, no other public school would play us, and only some of the prep schools and the big 5-A parochial schools. We were overmatched in every way. We were the pigeon on every other team’s schedule, so you have to wonder why our locker room would have been anything other than a study hall with showers.
On one level there’s no comparison to a big league, NFL locker room like the one we read about for the behemoths of the Miami Dolphins with my little high school’s couple of rows of lockers, but on another level, all locker rooms in the US are affected, and inflicted, by the same imitation culture running from the NFL to the sandlot fields, a bike ride away from anyone’s neighborhood. Which is why reading any piece of the NFL’s report on the bullying of Jonathan Martin by his teammates, Richie Incognito and what the Times’ reporter, Juliet Macur, called “his henchman,” John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, is so disturbing. When Macur and her colleague, Willliam Rhoden, use the word “vile,” to describe the behavior you know you are dealing with homophobia, misogyny, racism, and almost unimaginable slurs, insults, and misbehavior defining a depraved and aberrant culture. Worse this is a subculture, unless totally cleaned up and corrected, which discolors the entire American culture and experience.
Macur argued that the only thing that might force the NFL to change would be pressure and a line being drawn across the middle of the playing field by the big time multi-million dollar sponsors that they would no longer tolerate this kind of hater-ator culture in the NFL. These sponsors are among the biggest names – and brands – in American business, including McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Fedex, Microsoft, Visa, General Motors, and many, many more. Macur also points out clearly that this is not a boys-will-be-boys thing, but a workplace, and none of these companies, presumably, would allow this kind of behavior in their own workplaces, so why are they willing to pay millions to support this kind of misbehavior.
I say right on, but I also say that she didn’t go nearly far enough. The report makes it clear that the coaches also allowed this kind of behavior to go on virtually unimpeded. An NFL coach makes millions, like any other big time CEO. Rhoden wants Incognito banned for a life or at least one year from the sport, but why are we not hearing about coaches being told by owners and the league that they will be suspended or fired for allowing their locker rooms to be cesspools breeding this culture?
And, besides joining Macur’s call for sponsors to act, why isn’t there a call for all of us to boycott the sponsors until they act. This was a very effective tactic when applied to aberrant entertainment like Fox’s Glenn Beck show, and sponsors heard it clearly. Why not now?
Recently some Congressional voices spoke clearly to the NFL about the need for the Washington team to get rid of the Redskins moniker or lose their tax exemption. If the kind of locker room behavior in Miami and, likely so many other places, is tolerated how can there be anything about the National Football League that warrants a tax exemption? If this is charitable and educational activity, the charity is only itself, and the education it is providing is horrid.
I’m a fan, and I love the sport, but I’m embarrassed at the silence of my Saints and Drew Brees, our much admired quarterback and captain.
This has to be stopped from the top down because it’s clearly out of control and is corrupting the entire American culture, but to get the top to move change down below, it also means those of us at the bottom taking names and kicking butt until they get the message that this won’t work anymore.