Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday's Musings on Sports - The Public Side of Power a/k/a Incognito no More, the Korach Story

Over the course of the last week, a minor story in the world of professional football has snowballed to the point that it has led to a national (and perhaps international) referendum on team athletic activities.

On October 30, 2013, it was reported that Miami Dolphins Offensive Lineman Jonathan Martin had left the team. The official word from the team was that Martin had left for personal reasons, but that quickly devolved into inquiry as to Martin's mental state when the press began reporting that Martin left for "emotional reasons."

Although professional football players make a base minimum salary of more than half a million dollars, it is not uncommon for football players to leave their teams for "personal reasons". Although not widely reported, last week John Moffitt, an Offensive Lineman for the Denver Broncos, left the team because he was unhappy about being a bench player and wanted to move on to "new things." Similar to Martin, he was a relatively high draft pick in a recent draft (Martin was a 2nd Round pick in 2012, Moffitt was a 3rd Round pick in 2011). But no one outside of Denver speculated publicly as to why Moffitt was leaving the team.

Not long after the Martin left the team, news began to circulate that Martin had been purportedly harassed and or the subject of mental abuse which was inflicted through what has been commonly called hazing. I don't know if hazing has a pure form, but it is generally viewed as rituals which a new player needs to go through in order to become "of the guys." 

The problem is that there is no normal for hazing. In the wake of the media storm about what fellow Dolphins Offensive Lineman Richie Incognito purportedly did to Martin, there have been so many stories from present and former players in every sport as to what was done to them rookies. These stories range from being duct taped to the goalposts after practice, to being forced to sing their college team's fight song at team meals, to having to carry a more senior team member's pads after practice or even being compelled to pay for team dinners. 

But those are some of the more benign hazing rituals. College and even High School sports have had too many unfortunate stories about student athlete and sorority/fraternity initiation rites and hazing which have resulted in serious injuries and even death.

The added level of complexity to the Martin story is that the perpetrator and the victim are highly compensated professional athletes and grown men. This would lead one to ask, why would anyone do this to another grown up in their profession and why did Martin not stick up for himself?

I believe that the answer may lie in that old adage, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Incognito has earned a reputation as a player who lives on the edge and he was famously labelled as one of the dirtiest and most hated player by his fellow professional football players. But it seems that he also was looked at as a leader and there were even reports (officially denied of course) that coaches on the Dolphins asked him to "toughen up" Martin. 

So here is Incognito, looking at himself as a veteran and team leader. He sees a player who is perceived as weak. He believes that it is his responsibility to toughen up Martin and because of who he is, he cannot see the line between acceptable behavior to motivate a player and bullying.

The story reminds me of a famous medrash involving Korach which relates to last week's parsha. But what does Korach have to do with Sefer Bereishis? As told over by R' Mansour on a recorded shiur on, when Yaakov dreams about the angels going up and down the ladder, he sees Korach at the bottom of the ladder and Moshe at the top. The meforshim explain that sulam (the hebrew word for ladder) has a gematria (numerical addition of letters in a hebrew word) of 136 as does the word mammon (the hebrew word for money). Korach and Moshe were two of the riches men at the time that the Jews were in the desert. However, what they did with their money and their personal desire for honor were completely different. While Moshe was an anav and lived modestly, Korach had an incredible desire for power. For Moshe the money and the power were not things that he desired, but they corrupted Korach and were the source of his downfall.

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