Big Bully

The apparent relentless bullying of Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin has to be one of the weirdest sports stories in years.

Martin — an offensive lineman who is 6′ 5″ and weighs more than 300 pounds — left the Dolphins abruptly after enduring the hazing and harassing behavior of his own teammates.  New stories about the incident indicate that Martin was browbeaten into paying $15,000 so other Miami players could take a trip to Las Vegas and that another Dolphins player physically threatened Martin and used racial epithets in phone messages to him.  The other player, guard Richie Incognito, has a history of bad behavior and seems to be fighting a losing battle with a horde of inner demons.  Incognito’s recorded message to Martin is inexcusably racist and vile, and he has been suspended by the Dolphins.

It’s weird to think that a man as big as Martin could be bullied, but when a bunch of other very large and violent men are the actors it’s not hard to see how bullying could reach a point where a player would just quit rather than trying to tolerate more abuse.  It’s also weird to think that supposed teammates would be hurting their own team by tormenting a highly regarded player to the point where he would quit, but apparently the Dolphins coaching staff and the front office ignored the growing problem.  Now they’ve lost two players, and it’s hard to believe that the remaining team members aren’t shaken and second-guessing everyone’s role in the incident.

I’ve always believed that, as a normal-sized unathletic person, I can’t appreciate what it would be like, physically, to be a super-sized elite athlete playing in the NFL.  The strange Jonathan Martin story makes me think that I can’t really understand what it would be like emotionally to play on an NFL team, either.  I feel sorry for Martin, and the whole incident makes me lose some respect for the National Football League.  The NFL is great at marketing its product and trying to depict players as wonderful role models.  How much of that is phony?  How many troubled giants like Richie Incognito are terrorizing NFL locker rooms?

It’s Never Easy

The Browns won an ugly game today.  As victories go, it was about as repulsive as you can get — but it was a win nevertheless.

After three games, the Browns are 2-1, and will be, at worst, tied for first in their division.  They won today because their defense played a good game against a pretty mediocre team and their offense — which was wretched for most of the game — cobbled together a good last-second drive for a touchdown.  The drive gave the Browns a 17-16 lead, and the defense forced a Miami turnover to seal the win.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves about this Browns team.  The offense clearly is searching for itself, and the defense hasn’t faced any offensive juggernauts.  Still, Colt McCoy’s performance on the two-minute drill was encouraging and may help to kick start this offense into a good rhythm.  And a more productive offense would be a help for the defense, too.  The Browns appear to have some defensive playmakers, and letting them take a gamble now and then might make them into a more effective unit.

I’ll take the win, of course — but with the Browns it’s never easy.

The Browns Press On

The Browns play the Dolphins today in Miami.  The Browns stand at 4-7 and are pretty much out of the playoff hunt — unless they can somehow run the table.  If the Browns hold out any hope, they must win this game.

This will be one of those rare games where the location probably doesn’t give an advantage.  The Browns stink on the road (1-4) and the Dolphins stink at home (1-4).  The Dolphins have a pretty good defense and have been especially good against the pass.  The Dolphins’ offense, however, has been iffy, and their quarterback (for now at least) is Chad Henne, a name familiar to anyone who follows Big Ten football.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Colt McCoy is still out, so Jake Delhomme will start at QB.  Delhomme played a good first half against Carolina last week, then had an abysmal second half that let the Panthers back in the game.  Although he bounced back to lead the Browns on a drive to get a field goal to put the team ahead, his bad decision-making was deeply troubling.  If a vet like Delhomme hasn’t learned good judgment by now, what does he bring to the table?  No doubt the Browns, again, will hope Peyton Hillis can carry them to victory on the ground — and also hope that the defense recovers from its near-disastrous end-of-the-game breakdowns against Carolina.  The Browns were saved from another ignominious loss only because Carolina’s field goal kicker gagged on a game-winning field goal with time running out.  They’ll need to play better, on offense and defense, if they hope to win today.