Toughness shouldn’t hurt like this

Sports provide us with heroes and dramatic moments on an almost daily basis. But once every few years, a story comes along that just makes you hurt.

Lawrence Phillips dragging his girlfriend down three flights of stairs by her hair (and speculation about how that would impact his draft stock)

A Baylor basketball player killing a teammate and covering it up, with help from his coach


As soon as news broke that Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins, it was clear that this story was going to join the sports Hall of Shame, and that every detail that emerged would be more heartbreaking and cringe inducing than the last.

That’s not to say that all the crimes are comparable, but each of them transcended sports and made people question not just the locker-room culture but humanity. The details haunted sensitive-minded people—the kind that supposedly need to toughen up—for years, and, in the case of Phillips, decades, afterward.

His Dolphins teammates attacked every component of Martin’s identity:  his race, his family, his sense of safety and security. And his manhood.

Martin needed to be “toughened up”. It was “the way he carried himself,” which made him appear “soft.” Those terms supposedly came from the Dolphins front office—the same guys that asked Dez Bryant if his mom was a prostitute during a pre-draft interview.

Martin’s “problem” seems to have consisted of a laundry list of code words, and it indicates that maybe everyone should stop patting themselves on the back over Jason Collins. Not only aren’t locker rooms ready for a gay athlete, there woefully unprepared for one who acts a little different.

All those athletes who told the media after Collins’ announcement that they knew they had gay teammates? Apparently some of them might have made the identification by thinking of who needs to be toughened up and carry themselves the right way.

Panthers receiver Steve Smith is tough—there’s no question about that. But Smitty was upset when an opposing cornerback said bad things about his wife. “I don’t play those games,” an irate Smith said after the game. “When you take it personal like that.”

Trash talk with opponents all you want. But you don’t talk about wives or moms or family. That’s the code.

Richie Incognito, a teammate, told Martin, “(I’m going to) slap your real mother across the face.” An unnamed teammate told him, “We are going to run train on your sister. … She loves me. I am going to fuck her without a condom and cum in her cunt.”

I don’t apologize for the language, because the language isn’t mine, and never will be. I could have put a warning in front of it, but the people who need a warning like that are exactly the people that the Dolphins seem to think need to receive texts like that.

We don’t think you’re tough enough to play a sport where talking about opponents’ family members is frowned upon, so we’re going to threaten to gang rape your sister.

According to the statement from Martin’s attorney, he also suffered some type of physical abuse. This, from a sport where taping rookies to goal posts, dumping them in ice water, and vandalizing their cars are fodder for “Hard Knocks” fluff segments. We don’t know what the abuse was. There’s a good chance we’ll learn. I don’t want to.

Jonathan Martin was assaulted, harassed, blackmailed, and the victim of a hate crime.

There will be suspensions, releases, league penalties for the team, and eventually a civil settlement. I don’t care about any of that. No sports punishment can make this right. Mankind is worse off because this happened. I’m worse off for knowing the details.

Eventually, the story will be sanitized a little here and embellished a little there and turned into a “ripped from the headlines” episode of Law & Order, and we’ll move on.

We shouldn’t. It happened. The headlines weren’t ripped—the fabric of society was.

“(I’m going to) slap your real mother across the face.”

“We are going to run train on your sister. … She loves me. I am going to fuck her without a condom and cum in her cunt.”

A girl, dragged by her hair, her head dropping 6 inches and thumping off a step … more than 30 times.

A lost boy, with a heartbreaking background, in a shower, with a man he trusts.

They’re all burned in my mind.

Thanks, but I’m tough enough already.