In the past week, the bottom-of-the-league Los Angeles Lakers had future prospects go from bad to worse as their young phenom point guard D’Angelo Russell was embroiled in controversy. Russell, a 20 year old rookie, got eviscerated and skewered by the media and his fellow athletes when a private video taken by Russell of teammate Nick “Swaggy P” Young got leaked, where Young talked about the girls he has been with, despite being engaged to musical artist Iggy Azalea. This would be your normal ho-hum controversy of an athlete having extra-marital or, in this case, extra-engagement, affairs, except for the fact that athletes and members of the media are turning their pitchforks and anger towards Russell – not Young. To me, this is a representation of society’s cult of manhood, commonly referred to as “the bro code”, a set of unwritten and unspoken rules that govern the way one man is treat another – bystanders and ethics be damned. The reaction and negative reception that Russell has received from teammates, league mates, other athletes, and media members is, in my opinion, despicable and deplorable.
The response to Nick Young’s video has, for the most part, been negative…towards D’Angelo Russell. The conjecture is that in taking a video of a private conversation, Russell broke the trust of Young, a teammate, and the basic tenant that is seen in many sports – what happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room. The response from non-teammate athletes ranged everywhere from disappointment to personal insults. In my opinion, the most interesting responses however, are two-fold: the ones from the NFL players, and the ones that weren’t said.
Because we live in the Twitter age, anyone with an account and an opinion can share their 140-character thoughts. That is exactly what has been happening from a myriad of National Football League players, on a number of issues including this one. The responses overwhelmingly have been something along the lines of “[Russell] is wrong and has ruined the locker room, and his teammates should respond negatively”. This, unfortunately, comes as no surprise, as the NFL has had its own locker room controversies in the past. Despite that, it shows the awful truth: there is an expectation of what a “man” should do in sports and the locker room. Men need to act like men and be tough and fearless and above all else, men need to be loyal. To the “men” in sports, especially in the masculinity-heightened NFL, the worst thing someone can be is a snitch – and once you are a snitch you cease being a teammate, a friend, a “man”, and that moniker defines you, you are now only a “snitch”. We’ve seen former players say this exact thing regarding Russell! Former NBA player with his own history of wrong doing Stephen Jackson weighed in on this situation by saying, “Old rule: Snitches get stitches. Especially from your teammate. You don’t expect that from your teammate…it’s a new day in basketball I don’t understand. It’s supposed to be a brotherhood.” Another player that spoke up was Tyrann Mathieu, a defense back for the Arizona Cardinals, he called Russell “a corndog”. Now why are these two opinions important? They aren’t, at least, not by themselves. But when they are met with agreement and nods of approval from the media, fans, and other players, they paint a disturbing image: to be secretive and consent to someone’s duplicitous or wrong choices, is akin to being a good teammate and man.
That’s what I find the most interesting in this situation, because not only was Russell blasted by his peers, but rarely if ever did someone make a comment regarding Young’s actions. Do we forget that this situation occurred because Young was talking about his extra-relationship affairs? Despite this, where are the choruses of athletes talking about the importance of monogamy, trust, and treating women with respect? Why are we flooded with opinions on the bro code but are left devoid of the human code? It is not just opinions either, there are actions being taken as punishment against Russell. These actions include teammates ignoring him, and keeping him in complete isolation. It has even gotten to the point where when Russell sits down at a table, players get up and move to a different one. These actions, while seemingly harmless and childish, show the bigger issue – Russell, the snitch, is currently getting his “stitch” by his teammates.
When did this become okay? When did it become justifiable to be expected to live life by a different set of rules – the bro code? When did the bro code itself become normalized, accepted, and commonplace? Even in pop culture, the bro code is an active concept. On the TV show How I Met Your Mother, character Barnie Stinson often spoke of the bro code, and it was so popular it was turned into a book – the bro code has been codified. As I see it, the bro code, and other related locker room ideas, is a product of masculinity run wild. Male professional sports like the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc. are so male dominated and driven, that the rules that govern the actions of players and teammates are this bro code. We are seeing what happens in the areas that are the highest concentration of masculinity and it is disgusting. The expectation to be loyal at the expense of other people is one thing that hurts society. We see it every day: whistleblowers avoid reporting what’s wrong because they do not want to be a snitch, friends do not report friends crimes because it would be snitching, and more. This concept is not new, it exists everywhere because we live in a masculine society that values loyalty of honesty and having someone’ back over doing the right thing.
What happened with D’Angelo Russell, it allowed the common people, the non-athletes, to peel back the curtain, if only for a little while, to see what really goes on in the locker rooms of athletes. What we see is society being reflected back at us like a mirror image. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, not that anyone is asking how this affecter her or how she feels, Iggy Azalea, the person arguably most affected by this video, is glad to have seen it. It turns out, to her, knowing the truth about the person she is about marry is more important than the snitching it took for her to find out.
If only the rest of society felt the same way.