|Incognito abandoned the ethics of a "warrior culture"|
Indeed, warrior metaphors are commonplace in professional football—as they are throughout the sports world. The Cherokee referred to their version of lacrosse as “the little brother of war.” Players used sticks that resembled battle clubs, and the game’s violence resulted in severe injuries and even the occasional death.
Just as the lines between games and war are fluid, the opposite is also sometimes the case. In his 1938 book Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga draws attention to 2 Samuel 2:14, when Abner challenges Joab to combat by announcing, “Let the young men now arise and play before us.” The ensuing battle confirms for Huizinga that “Play is battle and battle is play.”
Huizinga insists, however, that both the player and the warrior live by a code of honor, one shaped by “courage,” “tenacity” and access to “spiritual powers.” In other words, these are not lawless misanthropes. Advocates of the “muscular Christian” movement of the mid-19th century made similar distinctions as they acclaimed the high virtues of athletics. British author Thomas Hughes depicted the mindless “muscle man” as someone who exploits his body and succumbs to his “fierce and brutal passions.” The “muscular Christian,” on the other hand,
has hold of the old chivalrous and Christian belief, that a man’s body is given him to be trained and brought into subjection, and then used for the protection of the weak, the advancement of all righteous causes, and the subduing of the earth.
With this in mind, we might conclude that the Incognito affair unveils not the problems of a “warrior culture” but rather an absence of it. When the 2013 football season started, Incognito was a “good guy” and a role model for healthy, rule-bound competition. But behind closed doors, he was a “muscle man” living in a world that celebrated, enabled and encouraged his exploits. While this might be normative in the locker room, it runs afoul of the ethical standards of our time—as shown most pointedly by the strict anti-hazing policies that exist in the military. Professional football would do well to recover this brand of warrior culture, one that prizes achievement and teamwork but not at the expense of human dignity.
Nice work, Art!