Will Martin Case Change The Locker Room Life?


If you have never experienced a locker room you may not understand what is going on with the accusations regarding Jonathan Martin.  You may not understand the tormenting that Richie Incognito and an unnamed player did to a Miami Dolphins staffer.  Regardless it doesn’t make it right or wrong.  It’s life inside a locker room and despite the fact that these are grown men, it hasn’t changed since high-school.

It never will…well no one ever thought it would.

The Miami Dolphins saga of the last three weeks has brought attention to one of the most sanctified refuges in the world.  The locker room.  The locker room is not a place like a regular work environment.  The closest it comes to a Sunday church service is a pre-game prayer than ends with “Now go kick some ass!”  It’s ruthless, barbaric, and filled with vulgarity.  In a locker room no one and nothing is off limits and none of what is said or done should be taken personally.

Wives, sisters, girlfriends, and yes even moms are not off-limits.  Hazing is a ritual that dates back before my father ever played high-school football.  It will continue long after my son’s future children enter that arena of abuse.  Yet here is the thing.  It’s needed.  Nothing bonds people together more than the freedom of saying what they want without having the worry of hurting someone’s feelings.  Black, white, asian, whatever.  In a locker room, you are all brothers.  Racial indignation is not the same as it is on the streets.  Inside the closed walls of a sports locker room racism is left at the door.

In high-school I saw it all the time.  I sat next to a young black running back who chastised me for being too slow while the guy next to him chastised him for being too much like a girl.  They called each other names I had never heard and never did anyone take offense to it.  What happened in a locker room was between brothers and when it got out of hand it was settled like brothers….fight it out until you forget what the hell you were fighting about.  Shake hands, spit on the wounds and resume the volley of abuse.

Hazing too has been a ritual and anyone who has spent time in that environment on any level has experienced it.  From being held down on the floor while the grossest player on the team holds his socks over your face to inductions into a fraternity.  I was a sophomore in high-school when I truly learned what hazing was.  Paraded into a room at our summer training camp in only a jockstrap while grown women stood on a balcony above and watched as we were told to perform our tackle drills on each other.

The juniors and seniors clapped and egged it on while the coaches blew their whistles and the women upstairs whooped and cheered.  Imagine that today?  Did it scar me?  Not in the least and in some ways I don’t know if I would be the same person had I not gone through that.  It taught me that there was no difference between races that we were all, black or white, in a battle together.  In that room it didn’t matter what music you listened to or who the clown of the team was, in there it was family and no one comes between family.

A lot is made of what has happened in Miami and there are those that use this to further there opinion that men are pigs, well that too would be wrong because a girls locker room can be just as bad if not worse. So I’m told.  The truth of the matter is this and it’s as plane as I can paint it.  Locker rooms are bare because nothing hides who we are.  What other job outside of a sports locker room are you exposed to being naked among members of the same sex all the time?  Only one.  The military and no bond is greater than that of a soldier to a fellow soldier.

In a locker room there is no clothing to hide imperfections, nothing to cover up the soul of who we are.  We simply are.  We can say things in company that we would never say to our wives, husbands, or sometimes even our closest siblings.  The relationships built in a locker room are what keeps players close friends long after they have moved other teams or retirement.  So will it now all change?

This case is close to being wrapped up as Ted Wells the investigator in charge has spoken with Jonathan Martin, spoke with the Miami Dolphins, players and coaches, and has spent two days with Richie Incognito.  The question of what happened in that locker room may not be ever fully known but the public perception of what locker room life is has been changed.  The question is will athletes change inside that room?

While on the surface it would be easy to say no there will always be a tentative nature towards each other.  Is this someone that is going to have a problem with me if I say or do this?  Is this first timer strong enough to handle good natured fun or will he or she think it’s gone too far.  What is too far as it relates differently to each individual.  My skin is thick and it takes a lot to get my juices flowing to the point I take it personally.

On Tuesday nights I c0-host a radio show, On The FinSide on Blogtalk.  I spend plenty of time ridiculing my co-hosts and especially Brian Catanzaro.  In fact, I harass Brian every time I see in front of others as well.  It’s not personal, it’s how our relationship has evolved.  Neither take it personally nor should we.  The same can be said with James.  The general public or perhaps just the media want’s that changed.  Why?  Because they don’t understand it. Don’t want to understand it. Or don’t know how to accept it.

What happened in Miami isn’t tragic outside of the public distraction it caused the team and the embarrassment it caused the owner.  The tragedy is that one person took it upon themselves to take offense to something that he himself participated in and experienced not just in the NFL level but in college and high-school as well.  Regardless of what facts are found to be more truthful and regardless of whether Incognito or Martin is exonerated in the public court of injustice, the reality is that the next guy won’t likely be treated as those before him and to be honest that is part of the tragedy as well.  They will miss out on the opportunity to build a strong relationship with veterans whose jobs they are trying to take.  They will lose out on the feeling they belong because they made it through.

You may not agree and maybe you were a part of a locker room and maybe you weren’t.  I can tell you that what has happened in Miami is no different than what happens to rooks on a police force or fire department or the jabs and jokes made to a first time paramedic on his first week of duty.  It won’t change the way the military operates, talks, or behaves in terms of being softer and more sensitive.  Men and women need those opportunities to bond and believe it or not, that kind of atmosphere does in fact breed unity.

I think what amazes me the most in all of this is the simple fact that not one athlete has come out and defended the notion that there is no place for what happened in Miami in a locker room.  Some have defended Martin for being brave enough to put an end to whatever was going on but even they have not called for changes in that atmosphere.

Who knows how this will play out in the future but it likely won’t change much despite the fact many believe it should.

Consider this last piece of thought on the subject.  After learning that the Dolphins would be without Mike Pouncey for last weekends game, Brian Hartline told media that he had a talk with the offensive lineman and made sure to tell those journalists that he did so with courtesy and was very careful not to hurt anyones feelings.  In other words, in the face of all that is going on, Hartline made a joke about the whole thing.

No, it won’t change.