incognito

With the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying story dominating the headlines this week, I spent some time thinking back on all the times I encountered hazing and bullying in sports, both firsthand and what my friends experienced as high school and college athletes. To my recollection, members of both the boys and girls swim teams had it the worst in high school, with lacrosse and hockey not too far behind. I remember being happy I had stopped swimming by the time I reached ninth grade as they were so mean to the incoming members, especial the day the freshman all had to attend classes in their bathing suits while sporting glitter hair and pageant make-up, singing in the commons for every upperclassman, sent to swim extra laps for hours until their bodies were broken.

I couldn’t recall any particular hazing of in my years on a college crew team, but I did have a bully in my boat, and it is amazing how despite our winning record and the number of medals and trophies we won, despite the number of years that have passed since I have last seen this person, how much I utterly despise and loathe my former teammate. The idea of ever seeing him again fills me with a sense of dread no other human being holds over me. A teammate who should have been there for support, not torture.

I had never coxed before college, but with my previous boating experience, my large personality in a tiny body and willingness to learn landed me in the first boat on the men’s team within the first couple of weeks of the fall season. He had rowed since his middle school days in Connecticut and had been heavily recruited from top tier schools around the country. My inexperience was never good enough for him despite how well I was doing, how I earned my spot over former prep school kids through skill and hard work. When couldn’t criticize me for my performance on the water, he took to my personal life. He didn’t like the guys I dated or even who made out with at the bar. If a good looking guy flirted with me, he’d question why someone would lower themselves to my existence. He didn’t like my clothes, how I wore a flannel shirt over my Vespoli tee (in 1994!) and wool socks when we traveled. When I bought new running shoes, he asked why I bothered since I walked the few miles to the boathouse on the Harlem River instead of running, ignoring the fact I was loaded down with equipment and tools our coach didn’t feel would be secure if left overnight, not mention being a pack mule for the other seven guys in our boat. He yelled at me about the time I hit a bridge and he swore up and down it was me, except it wasn’t; I was out with pneumonia that week (because our coach got us onto the water as soon as the freeze was over) and it was a girl named Liz who hit the bridge. Didn’t matter. He never let me forget about the bridge I never hit.

In men’s crew the coxswain has to weigh 120 pounds or the boat has to carry sand, dead weight that can throw off the balance of the boat and generally slow you down. Much like now, my weight holds steady between 108-112 pounds. You drink water to weigh more before weigh-ins and hope you piss it out before the race. I never drank enough water. I cried and begged to pee and then threw-up all the water in my stomach before one of the biggest races of the season. I honestly couldn’t see and my head felt like it was going to explode. He just handed me another jug of water and told me to stop being a baby.

The other guys loved him and told me to ignore his daily barbs, but honestly, the more I was told to never mind what he said to me —  no matter how cruel —  the more it bothered me, and the more I dreaded seeing him at team parties or having to be in the same van as him driving to a race. He was supposed to be my teammate, I didn’t care if I wasn’t his friend, but he treated me as if I was the biggest burden he had ever come across. I, like Martin, tried to quit the team on a regular basis I was so unhappy, just to be guilted back into place.

Ultimately though, it wasn’t my performance that lost us one of the biggest races we ever had, it was his. A race so tight, the New York Times even noted our crushing loss to Harvard by .054 of a second, Cambridge a far third. Two strokes before the finish he took a bad swing and didn’t get his oar completely in the water. One stroke past the finish we were ahead of Harvard by two seats. Had his stroke been even, we would have handily won. He knew it. We all knew it. The coach came to the boat and said it was his stroke. The loss haunted us, and it was my bully’s fault, not mine. Never have I ever felt so much relief in losing.

Of course the footnote to this jerk’s story is that last I heard, he was a VP at Goldman Sachs. So there’s that. He’s probably still bullying someone somewhere. I feel sorry for that someone, but happy it’s not me.

I asked the rest of the KSK team for their stories (obviously leaving out the parts where we all have to get UPROXX branded on our left butt-cheeks), either as the victim of being bullied in sports or as the bully. I’m also including a couple of stories left by the KSK Kommentariat on yesterday’s post about the nation’s bullies breaking down Incognito’s tactics.

First, the bullied.

Big Sandy: 

I used to play a sport in high school called “baseball” – I know, I know but don’t worry, I’m reformed – and one kid in particular took it upon himself to make my time on the team miserable. The usual verbal bullying stuff happened – calling me chubby, stuff like that – and there was some physical bullying, too. The small irony is that I was bigger than him but, hey, I didn’t feel like retaliating and getting kicked off the time, so I put up with it for a while. I quit playing the following year so I only saw him infrequently in the halls at school where he largely ignored me. Fast forward 15 years later to now: this summer, just Googling random people from school, I fount out he had been arrested at least once (and possibly multiple times) for having a meth lab that partially exploded, catching a house on fire. He now sells used cars. Meanwhile, I have a real career, a dog, and all my teeth so who wins now, sucka??

Old James: 

When I said I’d do this, I figured it wouldn’t be hard for a guy of my stature to look back to his playing days, if you can even call them that, and pick from plenty instances of being bullied. After all, my eighth grade football program listed me at an aptly even 5’0”, 100lbs — even though I was neither of those things. More pad rack than football player. But when you’re that small playing a contact sport, everyone kind of writes you off as an afterthought. In hindsight, the bullying was surprisingly minimal. Maybe I was just too small for even the worst bully to target me for ritualistic hazing, which is probably some kind of worse, next-level bullying if you wanna get all hyper analytical about it. Aside from the hacky “LOOGIT HE’S SHORT” jokes, it was all pretty mild.

My bullying story doesn’t directly involve playing sports. No, my bullying story happened at a press conference. Since it was clear my diminutive size would prevent me from ever joining the professional ranks, I did what a lot of washed out athletes tend to do – I became a journalist.

The college I attended had both a BCS conference football team and somewhat respectable student newspaper, so when I finally found myself credentialed enough to attend my first weekly presser, I was pretty damn excited. I’d made it. I was sitting next to guys whose stories and columns I’d devoured, attempting in earnest to be just like them. So it was particularly jarring the first time I heard one of them try to bait another student reporter into asking the head coach about the status of an injured quarterback.

“Hey, you should ask him about so-and-so’s wrist” they’d say, innocently enough, like they were doing you a favor. And for a young reporter who didn’t know any better, it was a seemingly perfect opportunity to prove yourself by asking the hard-hitting questions.

Veteran reporters knew the question needed to be asked, but they damn sure weren’t gonna ask it themselves. No, that would make them look like an idiot, and in turn possibly compromise their precious level of access and free weekly all-you-can-eat pulled pork sandwiches. Plus, this way, they’d get to see a young’un squirm when they find out how little football coaches enjoy talking about injuries.

Now, I’m not trying to say that all sportswriters are asshats, much like all football players aren’t Richie Incognito. But this old guard, earn your respect, “everyone else has gone through it so you should too” mentality isn’t exclusive to the players in the locker room. Something to think about when the nugget barons of the world are droning on about how you just don’t understand the football culture.

Trevor Risk: 

I had this bully in elementary school who was actually way smaller than all of us. He played hockey, and I’m pretty sure his older brothers would pound on him pretty hard, so maybe that’s where his intimidation and muscle skill came from. His mum was my dentist, and every year before school started during my bi-annual cleaning she would be all “Oh, you’re in Chris’ class!” and feign positivity behind her sad, I-have-three-sons-and-I-totally-know-how-you-feel-cos-they’re-dicks-and-I-know-it eyes and face mask. Chris was the kind of guy who would come up to you and say that some girl asked you out and you’d say “yes” (because holy moly girls were real) and then go and tell them that you wanted to get with them or whatever and they’d be grossed out. He once had the balls to promote a recess fight that he came up with where he took two dumb bigger kids as one team and him and the nerdiest kid in school as the other, because he thought that he could win a handicapped match, and he totally did, with no help from nerd kid (who we referred to as “Cheesy”). Chris would punch you in the mouth so you were bleeding and then put his arm around you and convince you how cool you were so you wouldn’t get him in trouble because he was a cerebral prick, even at age 10.

Our wacky Beakman’s World-y teacher came up with this game that was pretty much California kickball (or soccer baseball or whatever colloquial term your area calls baseball with soccer/dodge balls) but you could also throw it across the plate, and the “batter” would have to adjust and hit it with an arm instead of kick it. I’m at bat and I swing with my arm and it hurt and I yelled “ow” and Chris stood up and was all “Hurt by a dodgeball! You pussy!” to lots of laughter and general agreement, so I hustled to first and ran it off. Turns out that I tore tendons in my wrist, and because I played through the pain, I was up at shortstop in the bottom half so when I fielded the ball and tried to throw to first my entire wrist went limp and tore the remaining ligaments and pretty much ruined my entire summer because at that point it was all splints and learning to use the other hand for three months. Thing is, the guy somehow convinced the class for the rest of the year that I was still faking, and that somehow a ten year old got his hands on a prop splint and because the rest of the students were terrified of him, it just became universally accepted that I wasn’t injured.

Bostjan Snachbar – KSK Kommenter 

I was that kid who got picked on a lot (small black kid, Rec Specs, skipped a grade). Even at private school I got harassed constantly and “hip checked” during recess into trees or playground equipment, or in the hallways during passing periods into lockers. At first I would fight back but since, you know, I weighed like 50 pounds, I got the living shit beaten out of me.

In third grade I left my coat inside before P.E. and asked my teacher if she could unlock the door for me to go get it. I had a pocket pencil sharpener full of brown crayon shavings in my hand from our 50 States coloring project. I went to my cubby #16 (like, a locker-sized compartment with no lock, just a little space) and poured them into the bag of chocolate chip cookies in #15′s locker that he always shared with #3 and #21 at lunch (most bullies start out as socialistts people forget that). The job took maybe 15 seconds.

Lower school Bostjan’s guerilla anti-bullying antics included but were not limited to: swapping out a brand-new Pokemon Blue game into a bully’s Game Boy Color so he thought all his data had been deleted, taking a dump and putting a laminated holographic Japanese Blastoise into the toilet bowl, and using a pin needle from home to poke a hole in the Aikman autographed football one of my bullies brought for show-and-tell.

I still got my ass beat, mind you. I only told my best friend about what I did, and since we usually got our asses beat together, you know, mutual incentive to not snitch. He gave me his Snoopy keychain as consideration for our pact. I gave him the shoelaces from my first pair of Air Max shoes. That’s virtually a blood oath.

Oh, but to see the pain and humiliation on those bullies’ faces…it’s really too bad I ended up being a fan of the Cowboys. I was groomed into schadenfreude. Karma has a way of working itself out like that, I guess.

And now, the bullies. 

PFT Commenter: 

My bully story:

Its no secret here (and pretty obvious to anyone whose read my takes) that Im pretty knowledgable about football since I just watch a ton of it,, but really most of my knowledge comes from when I played a bit back in high school. I played TE and a little bit of LB and my claim to fame was I was in charge of player safty and that meant making sure everyone had the correct pads on. During two-a-days Id make it my personal mission to ensure the saftey of all the players who were smaller then me by forming what I caled the “cupcheck committe” made up of myself and this kid Travis who didnt play football but he would show up to practice sometimes. The trick was to make sure that they werent looking before wed slap the back of our hands (so it wasnt Gay) into there penises to let them know that safety first.

Anyways this one kid Rick Tassitore never wore a cup so Id hit him first to set a example. Well he had a little brother who played baseball and one day Rick I guess got butthurt by me making fun of how bad he would feel when I hit his testicles so he borrowed his little brothers youthsized cup and I go up to slap him and swear to God break my finger on his jockstrap because he pulled a cheap shot and snuck a cup in their finally. Rest of the guys were hootin and hollerin and I finally new what it felt like to get bullied- but I can tell you its true,, the one way to stand up to them is to fight back. So I jam my hand down Ricks pants and pull out this tiny Cup a long with some of his hairs or whatever and its so small folks I had some fun with it and said “Thats not a cup its a shot glass!” His parents probly made him quit or something he just kind of gave up on his teammates I guess. So we called him “Needle Dick” for the next 4 years and at reunions and stuff but the point is I use to bully people and I turned out just fine.

TimTebowIsAProAndAQuarterbackButNotBoth – KSK Kommenter 

A LONG TIME AGO… in a town I’m still living in, I used to be a bully. I prided myself on being mean at just about every opportunity. I was suspended/expelled 14 times from 1st grade through 8th grade (never once in high school, however). I had anger issues. I was a terrible fucking kid. I’m still surprised my parents never “sent me away” like they always threatened to.

I speak from experience that being a bully is all about making yourself feel better through the humiliation of others. I never EVER felt bad about any of the stupid shit I did; I merely felt “sorrow” because of my punishment.

Now that this stupid shit is well behind me, I honestly can’t believe how fucking stupid I was as a kid. Obviously now I’m a terrific human being (OBVIOUSLY). Because my life has basically been an 80s movie with a happy ending and a message of hope…

tldr: Bullies are bad, m’kay? Oh, and TMI.

_______

@Richard

I believe most of my anger stemmed from getting punished for being obnoxious, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t ALWAYS angry, but I was always getting into some kind of trouble, then getting punished, then getting angry at getting caught.

I don’t know if genetics hold any water in this, but my father has always had a bad temper, and I think it passed on to me.

I myself was picked on (for being overweight), and I suppose I decided to stop the bullying, I should become the bully. After a while I stopped getting picked on, and after a longer while, I stopped doing the pickings on.

I stopped getting expelled/suspended in 8th grade when I made the biggest mistake of my life and got expelled for half of the entire school year. I suppose one can’t say that without telling why… *cough*threatenedtokillateacher*cough*…

Even though I quit with the bullying, it was around then when I developed depression. I fought through that all through high school (graduated in 2009) and it all came to a head in August of 2012 when I attempted suicide for the final time. I got institutionalized for a week and I’ve been great since (no sarcasm).

Did I mention I was a stupid kid? Because I was. I really, really was.

Now I’m just a less-stupid young adult. Anger is no longer much of an issue, and I like to think I turned out somewhat okay (I don’t beat women, I’m not a junkie, etc.).

Holy fuck I just told half of my life story. Sorry guys.

For the record, I feel more comfortable telling people on KSK about myself than most people I know in real life. Funny how that works out.

Bobby Big Wheel: 

My high school reunion was a big success. Someone came up to me and said, “hey, I hear you’re a big shot lawyer in New York now.” A girl I had a crush on admitted that she had a crush on me back then too. We ended the night at a shitty Chinese restaurant in town singing “Let It Be” at karaoke.

But I do have one regret. There were a bunch of guys that I was a dick to in high school. In fact, I was a bully. Which is weird, because I’m not the prototype of a bully. I was hardly a jock – I quit sports after my sophomore year because I was so damn lousy at them. My friends were mostly bookish people who hung out in the newspaper office after school and guys who smoked pot at the abandoned highway on weekends. In fact, I was incredibly insecure and unsure of my place in the social pecking order.

So I would bully those guys who had it even worse off than me as a way of proving that no, I wasn’t the loser, they were the losers. They were the ones who had it bad, I was the cool one. I wish I would have apologized to the people I treated like crap back then. At the very least, I hope they realize that my bullying was the product of insecurity, and that it said more about me than it did about them. I still feel bad that I made high school more miserable than it already is though.

Which brings us to the Miami Dolphins. Unlike me, Richie Incognito is a prototypical bully. He even looks like the bully from Encino Man. But he bullied Jonathan Martin for the same reason I bullied those poor guys in high school. He’s insecure. He was bullied growing up and hasn’t been able to break the cycle.

But there are two factors that helped exacerbate Incognito’s bullying. The first is the very nature of the NFL. Non-guaranteed contracts mean players can be dropped at a moment’s notice. Locker room dynamics have significant monetary consequences. And the second factor is that, according to the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have bought into a high-flying lifestyle that means players are living beyond their means. To wit: days after being suspended and most likely becoming an NFL pariah, Incognito bought a Lamborghini. If you’re living beyond your means and scared about your job status then ruthlessness is the name of the game.

So all of these factors have combined to produce a toxic atmosphere, similar to high school, where some people are taunted because of others’ insecurity. High schools have recently taken steps to ameliorate these conditions now that we realize that bullying isn’t just a harmless childhood rite of passage. The Dolphins need to do so too.  Suspending Incognito is a start, but the problem is bigger than just him.