By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) An iconic title was removed from Chicago on Tuesday.
No, instead I’m referring to Mike Ditka’s unwritten honor of being this city’s de facto symbol of what a coach should represent. “Da Coach”—a moniker bestowed on him in a parody that so many mistake as complimentary to Chicago, because hooray obesity and heart disease and blind loyalty, right?—on Monday night referred to Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who has left the team to deal with issues stemming from his accusations that he was repeatedly bullied by teammate Richie Incognito and maybe others, as a “baby.” This after the previous week Ditka saying Martin should have punched Incognito if there was such a big problem between the two in the Dolphins locker room.
Strange, though, the parallels Ditka shares with the Willis Tower. Both are beloved by so many in Chicago stemming from a singular event—for Ditka it’s the one championship he won as Chicago Bears coach with talent that should have won multiple championships, and for Willis Tower it’s the one field trip we went on in grade school with the stupid tour and the overpriced lunch and the observation deck.
Both evoked lots of visceral response when they changed names—“I’LL NEVER CALL IT WILLIS TAHER IT’LL ALWAYS BE SEARS TAHER TA ME COMISKEY PARK YOU CAN’T MOVE WRIGLEY RAWR” and “I AIN’T A BEARS FAN ANYMORE I’LL ROOT FOR DA SAINTS WATCH DITKER WIN A TITLE WIT DEM STUPID MCCASKEYS AND DERE NICKELS LIKE MANHOLE COVERS.” Both will gladly take your money to push a product.
And both embody ignorance and misguided pride from a city that should be above all that. So many Chicagoans want Willis Tower to be considered taller than One World Trade Center because really mundane things matter to them and are sadly a reflection of themselves, I guess. If our building is a mere second tallest, Chicago is obviously an inferior city and we, therefore, are inferior people. And Ditka is some messed up extension of stupid toughness that people so want to be defined by rather than intelligence and rational thought.
Not me. Ditka does not represent me or the city I know as a cosmopolitan hub of art, thought, and culture. Ditka is binary, obtuse and a caricature. “Yeah, gang, punch a guy in the mouth that you have an issue with. Screw legal ramifications. Screw the possibility of risking your job by taking matters into your own hands rather than reporting what you feel is an uncomfortable, problematic work environment to your superiors.”
Or Martin should have gone to his coaches rather than leaving the team and letting the media get a hold of this story. Those same coaches that supposedly told Incognito to toughen Martin up. Because if anyone knows how a coach should handle mistreatment of players by other players, it’s Ditka.
But Martin chose to not be violent or confrontational in response to some serious psychological issues caused by the workplace. He made a choice to seek professional treatment. Those are two things that we repeatedly hear as “Why didn’t he…?” that are Monday morning quarterbacked following the increasingly common violent episodes at schools or offices. And for being the rare case of someone making an effort to help himself without hurting others, the super tough Mike Ditka joined the brave sages of Internet anonymity in calling Martin a baby.
Oh, Ditka made sure to be noble and say he wouldn’t want a bully like Incognito on this team. But he also made a point to tell the world that someone who gets bullied and chooses to leave the destructive situation is less than an adult. It’s victim blaming in all its square-jawed, mustachioed ironness. It’s crapping on intelligence out of fear that it’s a threat to your “manliness.” That subjective word that gets thrown around in times of questioning where we draw the line between machismo and not being an idiot.
I wonder if an institution that deals in helping those deal with mental, emotional, or psychological issues offered to cut Ditka a check to do ads for them if he’d still throw around derogatory labels. I can’t see a commercial that ran “Hey, gang, if you’re a huge baby that needs a diaper changing because you don’t like your life, come on down to the Sahsidge Clinic for Cowardly Manboys! I wouldn’t step foot in there, but you should! I’m Mike Ditka, and I’m not a wuss!”
Ditka is the dying old guard of sports having to be cinematic and all about some definition of manhood that embodied speaking softly and carrying a big stick and giving the ol’ college try and talking in antiquated clichés. Only behind the scenes that big stick was used in spousal abuse and drinking away the pain and taking your cancer like a man and dying of dementia. And the ol’ college try meant taking it to North Warshington, never talking about your problems, blaming women for the wussification of sports, and belittling intelligence that an actual college would stand for, damn it.
But his ilk is dying. And just as Ditka and other fools who just want this story to go away because it challenges their preconceived notions of “back in my day” sports takes and dares to say what makes them comfortable isn’t necessarily right, I am going to distance myself from him as representative of where I live a la Jim Belushi.
Sometimes the things we take pride in are pretty trivial, like the name or size of a building. Sometimes they’re downright wrong and counterproductive, like a neanderthal satired former coach.
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.