Today I have a guest post from a good friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. His story contains some painful events that do not portray family members well. While not ashamed of his past (I have heard him speak about this event at retreats) he wishes to not have his father name associated with these events.
This a brave post that is deeply personal and full of grace. Please read and comment with that same graciousness. In no way is the writer making excuses for Incognito’s actions or words. But my friend is a fierce preacher of the gospel who wishes all to see the grace he himself has received. The gospel, if it truly is good news, extends to those who don’t deserve it. We have to wrestle with that meaning it extends to those who we don’t want to see receive grace.
Richie incognito has been in the news a lot lately, and the news has been less than positive. He has long had a reputation as a hot-head with behavioral problems and character issues. The latest incident involving Incognito (bullying a teammate) got him suspended indefinitely from the Miami Dolphins.
Incognito has been vilified across news sites and social media, but personally, my heart goes out to the guy, because here’s what we know about bullies: every bully was once bullied.
Somewhere along the line, the future bully learns that in every relationship, there’s an “up” position and a “down” position and frankly, it feels like crap to be in that “down” position. In fact, it is deeply emotional and traumatic.
When we experience something traumatic, we cannot help but begin to make meaning that becomes deeply engrained. Usually, the meaning we make is: “there’s something intrinsically wrong with me.” (why else would the person constantly treat me this way?!)
Based on this meaning, we also make a decision on how to keep ourselves “safe” in the future. In this case, it usually takes one of two forms:
- based on our negative self-image, we relegate ourselves to the “down” position … permanently. — I will never be ‘up‘
- we do everything possible to never feel that way again. — I will always be ‘up‘
Personally, I made the second decision and I think Richie did too.
It was in the eighth grade that I was first labeled a “bully” by one of my teachers. I was in a fight at school. She caught us near the end of the fight and told us she would be calling home that night. Even though my normal bedtime was 9:30 or 10:00, I went to bed at 8:30 that night. Why? Because she had not yet called and the last thing I wanted to do was be awake when my dad got done with that phone call.
Shortly after I went to bed, the phone rang. I heard my dad talking to her downstairs and immediately after hanging up, I heard him stomping upstairs. As predicted, he was fuming.
He said, “your teacher tells me you are a bully. Is that true?” I expected her to report a fight, but she reported that I was a bully. Personally, I didn’t think of myself as a bully. I felt like the fight was mutual and fair. But the more I denied being a bully, the more my father fumed. Eventually he flipped: “fine, you want to see a bully …” And then he slugged me across the face.
I would not realize it until years later, but this was, yet again, an instance where I found myself in the “down” position. And as with all the other times, I was more motivated than ever to be in the “up” position. I told myself, “I may not be ‘up’ at home, but I will make sure, come hell or high water, that I am ‘up’ in every other sphere of my life.”
Kind of ironic, considering my dad’s probable intentions.
This mentality (that there’s an ‘up’ and a ‘down’ in every relationship) enveloped my life. And similar to Incognito, I found football to be a place that rewarded this mentality. Every single play, I got a chance to be in the ‘up’ position!
And yet, I suffered a similar fate to Incognito: many coaches and GMs refused to draft him because of his temper and character. In the same way, the coach at my dream school refused to invite me to play—not because of football or grades, but because of my character.
At this point, people are doing a lot of talking about what Richie incognito needs. He needs to be suspended. He needs to be banned from the NFL. He needs nothing at all (because the NFL needs “tough guys”). Personally, I believe he needs exactly what I needed: healing from the original bullying experience.
I became a Christian in college (providentially, through my head football coach) and quickly adapted my bullying to a more socially (religiously) acceptable form: I walked into every meeting hoping to be the wisest. I walked into every Bible Study hoping the be the most knowledgeable. I walked into every Christian environment trusting that I had the best testimony. I had come to Christ, but every facet of my life was still driven by being in the ‘up’ position and putting others in the ‘down’ position.
Eventually, I came through a process called Faithwalking that allowed Christ to penetrate well below the surface, to the deepest parts of my being. Through that experience, I saw clearly that I made a decision (I will always be ‘up’) that was preventing me from being faithful to Jesus. Jesus stepped into all those past memories, healed them, and helped me see that under his rule and reign, there is no such thing as ‘up’ or ‘down’. (Col. 3:11, Gal. 3:28, etc)
Richie Incognito doesn’t need to be vilified and demonized.
Richie Incognito doesn’t need to be banned from the NFL.
Richie Incognito needs mercy.
Richie Incognito needs healing.
Richie Incognito needs Jesus.
photo credit : Associated Press/Lynne Sladky