Remember when everybody was your cousin? Back in the day, your mother’s best friend was Auntie So-in-so. When I was coming up, we had so many “play cousins” that I had a hard time distinguishing them from blood relations.
African-Americans have a long, rich history of adopting other people’s people. Their folk were our folk. That tradition stretches back to slavery when families were nothing more than human chattel, torn apart and traded to fetch a higher price on the open market. Family was what you made it.
This week, as the debacle that is Richie Incognito continues to unfold, it got me to thinking about so-called social adoptions. Recently suspended amid allegations of bullying, the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman was named an “honorary black” by one of his teammates. Conferring such “status” on a goon like Incognito is both sad and misguided. To do so plays into the very same cruel and vicious stereotypes that have haunted African-American men since the first of us set foot on American shores.
Guess who’s coming to dinner.
Without question, the 9-year NFL veteran has a history of bad behavior both on and off the field. His reputation as a dirty player is well earned. Suspended from Nebraska and kicked off the Oregon squad, as a St. Louis Ram he racked up 38 penalties including seven for “unnecessary roughness” — in just 44 games.
Pro football is not a game for the weak, but sportsmanship has never been Incognito’s calling card. Yet, his transgressions go well beyond the locker room horseplay meant to toughen up a teammate. Nightclub brawls, accusations of molestation by a team volunteer, admitted drug use and flagrant use of the n-word might get a lesser player a one-way ticket back home to Glendale, Arizona.
Instead, Incognito gets treated like family.
“I don’t expect you to understand because you’re not black,” an unnamed player told Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero. “But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It’s about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you’ve experienced. A lot of things.”
Incognito felt so cozy in his new acquired black skin, that he called teammate Jonathan Martin a “half ni**er piece of sh*t” in a voicemail last April. Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp claims Incognito called him a ni**er in a confrontation during a game. Every guy in the league knows you have to watch your knees when Incognito is on the field. He is known for dirty blows in the pile.
Membership has its privileges.
I am not sure what being an “honorary black” entails, but I doubt Incognito has ever been subjected to stop-and-frisk, had his debit card questioned by department store security officers or found himself pulled over for driving-while-black. I am certain that he would not trade the constructs of privilege for a single day in America as a black man. Apparently, Incognito thought his newly found “hood-pass” means he can use the n-word with impunity — in jest and in anger.
Contrary to press reports, for the record Martin is not biracial. His parents, Gus Martin and Jane Howard-Martin, are both highly educated African-Americans. His father is a professor of criminal justice at California State University and his mother is a Harvard-trained corporate attorney. The Martin family counts nine relatives who graduated from Harvard, including his maternal great grandfather, who was one of only a dozen black students admitted in the 1920s.
Martin is himself a Stanford alumnus. He was not raised “around the way,” but in a traditional two-parent home and he prefers complete sentences to broken English. Somehow, according to some of the more unfortunate voices coming out of the Dolphins organization, all of that makes him less black than Incognito. Real black men are not raised behind white picket fences, right?
I have always wondered who sits on the fabled “Black Committee.” Who gets to decide who is not “black” enough to be in the “family” and, just as ridiculously, who qualifies the cultural adoption list? What does it take to become first-round pick in the “racial draft” and who name-checked Richie? Is he Justin Timberlake “black” or incessantly trolling us like Miley Cyrus twerking in shoulder pads and a face-mask?
Did we trade him for Wayne Brady or not?
Rather than stand behind Martin, his teammates (black and white) have blamed him for not standing up for himself. He was not tough enough, they said. Like fourth quarter defensive line-play with two seconds left of the clock, they piled up on the one-yard line to protect Incognito.
“We are going to run a train on your sister,” one of them sent via text message. “…She loves me. I am going to (expletive) her without a condom and (c-word) in her (expletive).
How’s that for family values?
Throughout all of this, the Dolphins front office simply shrugged and looked the other way. Incognito all but called Martin a “snitch” for going public. “Blindsided” and “betrayed” were the words he used. After all, he was just giving the “tough love” to his “brother.” More damning, it appears the coaching staff may have encouraged a culture that bred Incognito.
Coaches and players alike seem to believe that “head games” make for a mentally stronger player. As a former U.S. Marine and three-sport athlete, to some extent I know this to be true. But, I also know that there is a line and Incognito should pay a severe price for crossing it.
Editor’s Note: This has been a #breakingBLACK column. Goldie Taylor is a featured Grio columnist and her #breakingBlack columns will regularly appear every Monday. Follow Goldie Taylor on Twitter at @GoldieTaylor, and join the discussion at @theGrio with the hashtag#BreakingBlack.