In the Academy Award Winning film A Few Good Men, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey are charged with murdering a fellow US Marine, Private First Class William Santiago. They had no intent to kill Santiago. They were simply following orders to “toughen up” and “train” Santiago. The training, which came in the form a “Code Red”, was a type of physical hazing that unfortunately and accidentally went too far, leaving Santiago dead. Even though Dawson and Downey had no intent to actually harm Santiago, they were still found guilty of conduct unbecoming a United States Naval Officer and dishonorably discharged from the US Marines. In the final scene of the movie, however, Pfc. Louden Downey is unable to understand why they were found guilty of anything. In his mind, they had done nothing wrong. That is when Lnc. Cpl. Dawson turns to him and says the following line:
Yes we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie.”
In that final scene, it becomes clear to Dawson what they did wrong. Intent wasn’t the issue and neither was the result. The problem was that the action wasn’t right with regards to Willie. Tough training and “Code Red’s”, may have been ok for 99% of the Marines, but for Willie it was just too much. Willie was weaker, they knew this, and ultimately required a different type of training. Upon hearing the verdict that he was no longer allowed to practice the only profession he ever wanted to, Dawson finally gets it. When you’re someone’s brother in arms, that means you’re supposed to fight for them, to truly have their back.
The Incognito/Martin case, which we’ve covered to death over the past 4 months, plays out extremely similarly with Martin being playing the role of William Santiago. As detailed in the 144 page report conducted by Ted Wells, Martin simply could not handle the treatment he received throughout his tenure as a teammate of Incognito. While the majority of their behavior (right or wrong), was somewhat standard for an NFL locker room, joking, pranks, foul language, and yes a little bit of harmless hazing, it was clear that many times they went at Martin harder than others. They thought Martin was soft and/or weak and wanted to “toughen him up” and “train him to be stronger”. But this strategy, much like in A Few Good Men, backfired entirely. Martin simply couldn’t handle the environment. They even knew that Martin had contemplated suicide on at least one occasion and still did no course change on the way they treated him. It doesn’t really matter if it was not their intent to hurt Martin, it matters only that they knew he was weak and decided to continue to break him down.
I am not here to dissect, at which point Incognito crossed the line. Nor am I going to try and psychoanalyze Incognito’s intent. A locker room environment is a place where all kinds of inappropriate behavior occurs, and the majority of it is fine. However, things can still cross a line from inappropriate to unacceptable. Sometimes, if not most of the time, when that line is crossed it is completely accidental. In those times, a man needs to learn how to simply admit he fucked up. While Dawson may have figured that out, Incognito seems to still be completely lost on what he did wrong.
Incognito was supposed to fight for the guys in that locker room at all times, even the ones who couldn’t fight for themselves. He was supposed to fight for people like Jonathan Martin. It does not matter if Incognito had intent, and it matters a bit less if Martin handled everything the right way, the only thing that matters is that Martin couldn’t handle the way Incognito was coming at him. Incognito was guilty of conduct unbecoming an NFL teammate. Martin may have been an accidental casualty (or maybe intentional depending on what you believe), but either way Incognito broke-down one of the guys he was supposed to be fighting for. Until he truly realizes what that means, would you really want him fighting in the trenches next to you?