By TIm Baffoe-
(CBS) A bully doesn’t understand he or she is a bully.
I’ve seen my fair share of them as a teacher, and when one of them is confronted with the accusation that he is a bully, it’s usually met initially with strident denial. Bullies are thoroughly self-unaware, both in what they’re doing is wrong and that they themselves are only overcompensating for their own insecurities.
Bullies are afraid of dealing with themselves, and if you really examine one, they are the most pathetic examples of humanity. That’s why I so often feel so bad for them rather than respond to them in the fashionable knee-jerk squash-them-like-a-bug manner and punish them severely and maybe even ostracize them.
Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins (maybe formerly of them depending on when you’re reading this) is a bully, one now being confronted with the reality of what he is and why, and I feel bad for him, just as I felt bad in a way for Philadelphia Eagles racist receiver Riley Cooper. But as with Cooper, Incognito’s story can be one we learn from, even if he does not.
Don’t get me wrong here—Incognito is a bad guy. This is not debatable. And it seems almost hourly that incriminating evidence toward his resume as a toolbox emerges. Voicemails and text messages. Bar videos. Ironic PSAs. A documented history of abuse toward teammates. Taking pride in being labeled a dirty player.
And the NFL is a wonderful place for such a crappy personality to thrive. Fans and teams are willing to trade qualms with personality for performance on the field, and often being overly aggressive is desirable, even if that spills off the field. Even with the intelligent consensus being that Incognito is very much in the wrong for what he allegedly did to teammate Jonathan Martin, there are several people in the NFL community that are falling back on trusty old victim blaming. Because speaking out against being harassed by a coworker makes one soft, right?
Then comes the predictable response by people like Mike Ditka, whose heart may be in the right place if typically his brain is not, who fall back on the misguided maxim of standing up to a bully, even if violence is necessary. Violence begets violence, though. It doesn’t end it. I’ve seen what can happen to a bullying victim when the courage is finally mustered to say enough is enough, and it usually doesn’t end the way teen comedies would have us believe.
But, no, Martin must be a coward for deciding to end the abuse and leave a situation before it became much more dangerous for him. We must instead punch a very large, obviously unstable individual with the expectation that it will be a period that will end this sentence. That’s what we’ve been told by credible adults in our lives.
Handle these situations “like a man.” Because being violent is what makes one manly, not being intelligent. Because ending hazing in sports is somehow a threat to our collective masculinity, not a simple standard of workplace decency. Because Mike Rice’s players and others in similar situations should “sack up” and understand this is for their own good.
There is another former NFL player in the news who handled his business “like a man.” Where’d that get Aaron Hernandez?
Look, I don’t like 30-year-old Richie Incognito. I don’t want to have a beer with him. I don’t want to give him a hug. But I do feel bad for him because he is 30 years old and has the same mentality school kids who picks on others do, and that makes his a wasted life so far. For 30 years he has lived disliking himself so much that he has to make other people dislike themselves just so he can feel temporary doses of normalcy.
And why doesn’t Richie Incognito like himself? Why is he obviously such a screwed up individual?
Enter Richie Incognito Sr.
“I’d always tell Richie, ‘You don’t take no s— from anyone,” the father said in an NFL.com piece from just this past August chronicling his son’s desire to earn a better reputation. “If you let anyone give you s— now, you’re going to take s— your entire life.’ ”
Translation: make yourself the alpha dog in situations before someone else has a chance to do so. And that means even in a locker room with teammates who are supposed to rely on one another—particularly offensive lineman—even if some of the assumed comradery is largely a myth.
“I’d tell him, ‘Payback is going to come, Richie. When it’s time for you to have your payback, you open up the gates of hell and make them stare at the devil.’ And when that day came, man, he made them stare at the devil.”
Richie Jr. isn’t the product of an abusive father as far as I can tell. At least not in the classical sense of parental abuse. We see so many bullies that are. Here instead we have someone told by his most important and immediate role model how great he was beyond his ability to live up to the ego-stroking. Richie Sr. is a longtime apologist for his son, and that can be just as harmful for a child and certainly a society that has to deal with the child (and later adult) as actual abuse.
The father is a message board stalker. A man fighting battles for his son that need not be fought. (If a parent of an athlete expects to defeat all of their child’s critics, especially the online ones, they’re embarking on a fool’s errand.) He is the model for his son’s casual racism. He is the model for his son’s years of inability to understand why other people think so low of his son. He is the reason for his son’s need for medication for anxiety-related issues and former self-medication with controlled substances.
Richie Incognito Jr. wants to make his father happy, as all of us who love our fathers consciously or unconsciously do. But most of our fathers haven’t cultivated a psyche of being an ass and believing in your own immunity by having a “how dare you” approach to anyone acknowledging your negatives. My dad isn’t being racist to defend me or saying I must be in the right because someone I tormented wants to kill himself. My dad isn’t some sepia-toned flashback in a movie encouraging child me to crush perceived opposition at all costs. My dad wouldn’t brag publicly about molding me to be a jackass.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Incognito said back in August. “I made a ton of mistakes. And I was really hard on myself, and I’ve learned from them. I’ve used those mistakes to motivate me and to take me to new heights.”
Well, he actually hasn’t learned from them. Hopefully, though, this will take us to new heights in our collective understanding of how we help create bullies.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). Got a comment for Tim? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.