Open Mike: The Dark Culture of Sports Mike Tufano November 14, 2013 Features, Open Mike It’s a story you never hear, but it happens in every locker room in America. I don’t know about you, but, try as I might, I can’t get away from the Richie Incognito story. I don’t want to spend my sports fandom listening to voicemails and endless debate over what really happened. I want to hear who played well, who didn’t, and to celebrate a three-game K-State winning streak. But there’s an underlying reality behind the story that some fans are just becoming aware of. We want to sit back and think about how the team is like a family. The team philospohy and the marketing behind it even declare it outright. Everyone in the locker room loves each person like his or her own brother. But we know it’s dirty. We know it’s gritty. We know that the drive it takes to become a professional athlete can sometimes become confused with a drive that takes competitiveness to a brutal place. But we’d prefer to hide that. Especially if our team is winning. We don’t want to think about the fact that the brutality could be so rough that someone would give up a professional career as a means of escape. And, as much as we don’t want to believe that, we treat each other the same way. We want so bad to be right about our opinions that we fight and scrap in order to prove our point, as though our verbal competition can somehow have an impact on the field or court. And, while the world’s culture at large moves to a place in which peace and tolerance take a greater stand, sports culture devolves further into a deep morass of dehumanizing each other in the name of passion and dedication. So, as tired as I may be of the Richie Incognito story, it may be good that it’s inescapable. Jonathan Martin is being called everything from weak to a hero for bringing this culture to the spotlight. The truth, as it is in most other cases, is likely somewhere in the middle. As far as it may seem from the K-State world, each culture eventually weaves into the next, and behind the scenes, similar things play out each day in our locker rooms. Publicly it plays out among fans who have convinced themselves that they know best who should have playing time, what play should be called, or who should or shouldn’t be coaching a team. Sports have joined politics and religion as the topics most likely to inspire unadulterated hatred for anyone with a dissenting opinion, however minor the dissent may be. And all this as we proclaim that teams are families, that players are brothers and sisters, that coaches are parents and mentors. Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito aren’t going to fix it. A simple post like this certainly won’t even put a dent in the culture. But the conversation needs to be had. And perhaps now, thanks to the public nature of the Martin-Incognito incident, that conversation can begin.