When police officers are accused of police brutality, they naturally close ranks, willing to protect one another even when they know something is wrong. It is called The Blue Line, and for years it has stymied efforts to change the culture of police departments.
We saw it with Florida A&M University when Robert Champion died due to hazing, and many students and alumni rushed to defend the good name of the university.
It is a natural group dynamic. And it is playing out in Miami right now with the Miami Dolphins since offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team two weeks ago.
There are numerous reports circulating as to exactly what caused Martin to flee the team and seek hospitalization after a cafeteria prank on Oct. 28.
We’ve heard it was due to financial pressures to pay for trips for other players to the tune of $15,000. Others say it was constant bullying by Richie Incognito, a fellow lineman. Then we’re told that other black players considered Incognito to be one of them and found Martin less black.
Incognito has acknowledged using the N-word, thus many calling him a racist. And former teammates have called him out for being a nasty guy.
Numerous commentators have opined that Incognito will never play in the NFL again once the league’s investigation has concluded.
Now Dolphins owner Steve Ross has entered the fray, saying in a news conference that he’s angered by the reports and that he will meet with Martin. He even went as far as saying that there will be changes.
“I was appalled (by what Incognito said in a voicemail left for Martin). Anybody would be appalled. When you first read that text that was reported, to me, I didn’t realize people would call, text or speak that way,” he said. “There will not be racial slurs or harassing or bullying in that work place, in that locker room and outside the locker room.”
There is no doubt that Ross is saying the right things — the Dolphins are in the midst of a public relations nightmare — but even though he owns the team, he has absolutely no clue about the locker room culture in professional sports. And I doubt he has the capacity to change it.
Talk to any professional athlete — and I have done so with many over the years — and they will tell you that the locker room is the domain of the players. It is a place coaches and management are to tread carefully because it is the home away from home for the players.
Numerous athletes will tell you that the general public has no clue how they act and behave with one another, and never will.
Charles Barkley, a basketball Hall of Famer and now an analyst for TNT, told me in an interview on my TV One show, News One Now, that he fully understands the back and forth between Martin and Incognito, including the racy voicemails and text messages.
“I send texts like that to my friends all of the time,” Barkley said. “They are very vulgar. I talk about their wives. I talk about their mother. We do that to each other. These are my boys. If somebody got those texts, they can make me seem like a racist or a homophobe or something like that. I never react to text messages and language.”
Earlier in the interview, Barkley talked about the nature of the locker room.
“The locker room is very fun, spirited. It’s racist, sexist at times. It’s all over the place,” Barkley said. “I got no problem with that. I got white guys; I’m racist towards them in a fun way and they are racist towards me in a fun way.
“I told my teammates, anytime I went home and watched Maury Povich and the white guys did something stupid I called my white friends an say, ‘See how y’all are?’ When they saw black people doing something stupid they called me. It was in good nature. And we made racial jokes, we made sexual jokes. That’s a part of the locker room culture.”
This is where it is going to be problematic for the NFL and the Dolphins. What looked like a clear-cut case on the outside rapidly has become complex. And frankly, none of us on the outside know what happens behind closed doors.
The culture of a sports locker room is unique and unlike any other workplace with which we are familiar.
At the end of the day, we’re going to have to wait for Martin to come forward and give a full account of why he was so troubled that he left the team.
And until he does, expect the Dolphins and other NFL teams to close ranks and protect their own. That’s simply what they do.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.”