Snitches get stitches.
Whether gleaned from Cam'ron or The Wire, it's a phrase oft-perpetuated by tough guys, by the living, modern re-appropriation of John Wayne. It's a code of silence, a code that comes with consequences for every syllable uttered to the contrary.
It is, for whatever reason, society's notion of street-birthed honor, as if it fits the definition at all.
Snitches get stitches.
It's the mentality the anonymous collective—yes, I'm talking to you, Internet—so often reduces itself to for fear of standing up to what is wrong, what is unjust, what clearly cannot be allowed to continue.
Essentially, though its perpetuators will puff out their chests and tense up their tribal tattoos, it is the death of responsible social reaction. Masquerading as masculinity, as the right thing to do.
Snitches get stitches.
Today, Warren Sapp took to Twitter to call Jeremy Shockey out for "snitching" on the New Orleans Saints. This, of course, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell effectively laid the hammer down on New Orleans, suspending head coach Sean Payton for the season and general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games.
Though Mike Freeman soon disputed Sapp's claim, and the identity of the so-called "snitch" remains undetermined, it's beyond troubling that Sapp—a former NFL player working for an NFL-supported television network—would go to such great lengths to not only out a player in this incident, but label him a "snitch" in the process, attaching a negative connotation to what should be a highly-applauded act.
Shouldn't Sapp, as an ex-player and current NFL employee, be supportive of the Bountygate curtain-lifting? After all, the health and safety of NFL players directly benefits from this revelation. It seems entirely irresponsible for a man in his position to pose as an opponent of this kind of whistleblowing.
It also proved irresponsible in the sense that it catalyzed an army of likeminded sports fans into documenting their ignorance for all the world to see.
After seeing Sapp's tweet, Twitter quickly erupted with vulgarities, threats and general vitriol, all hurled in the direction of Shockey.
A quick sampling of Shockey-related tweets finds the following reactions:
You'll notice the common theme, of course, and I won't insult your intelligence by pointing it out.
My question, then, is how we arrive at this response—and it's hardly isolated amongst these three individuals. How is it that we make a leap from whistleblowing to, without sugar-coating it, advocation of assault or assassination?
Whoever tipped off Goodell and the NFL to the bounty-hunting practices of the Saints, whoever may claim the actual identity of the whistleblower in question, why is it that so many people view their revelations as a bad thing? And not just a bad thing, but something worth punishing with violence.
For all we know, the whistleblower may have prevented a spinal injury, may have prevented a long-term injury that could affect a player's life post-retirement. The whistleblower may have given someone a chance to enjoy their grandson's birthday without need of a wheelchair or walker, may have kept a quarterback able-bodied and ready to roam the sidelines as a coach once his playing career is over.
And we should reject those outcomes? Actively work to discourage them?
Well, color me Chris Kluwe, if that's the case. Because the Minnesota Vikings' punter had more than a few inventive words for folks who would so blindly condemn a man promoting the safety of his fellow players.
(WARNING: Kluwe's tweets, presented for full consideration below, contain strong language.)
Kluwe is absolutely correct, of course, even if you do not necessarily appreciate the language he used to get his point across. How skewed is our collective sense of morality, of ethics, of social contract, when we would wish violence or worse upon someone speaking out against wrongdoing?
Because make no mistake about it—what the Saints did was wrong. Yes, you could argue other teams did it or were doing it, and you would probably be correct. But that doesn't excuse the fact.
Goodell doesn't think it excuses the fact. Neither should anyone who has any semblance of an idea of the beating NFL players endure over the course of a career, of the long-lasting damage and physical toll it leaves on the human body once the jerseys are retired and the game balls are collecting dust in someone's storage closet.
But that's the thing, though. That's always the thing, isn't it? Most of the people spawning this hatred don't spend their days in the trenches. They don't know what it's like to be blindsided, to give themselves up on a crossing route with Troy Polamalu bearing down on them.
(Of course, Sapp should know better. But that's another point entirely, and one he needs to address if he means to maintain any semblance of respect amongst the NFL player community and alumni.)
The closest these folks will ever get to knowing life inside the locker room, to popping pain pills just to get out of bed in the morning, is watching Any Given Sunday or playing Madden. And that far removed from reality, such a perverted notion of heroism is probably easier to present as truth.
If we indeed, as a society, reject the bravery of Bountygate's whistleblower in coming forth with these horrible truths, then we may as well roll the clocks back and go back to living in caves and beating each other over the heads with clubs.
Then, I suppose, we could at least see who actually aspires to that sort of barbarism beyond the shelter of Twitter, beyond the comfort of having a computer act as a proxy while confusing social responsibility with the stark realities painted by a David Simon drama.
I, for one, am quite comfortable where I am, and am quite confident that I would have broken the news to Goodell myself if I had the chance.
If that makes me a snitch, so be it. I won't shy away from the label. After all, it's hard to get stitches from the other end of my computer screen.
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