Masculinity, Monarchy, and the Miami Dolphins

Benji BruneelCommunity News

South Beach Scandal

A generation ago, the image that came to mind when one thought of the Miami Dolphins was that of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino throwing the football around in unprecedented fashion. As the curtain rises on 2014, the image of football in South Beach isn’t quite as positive.

This fall, the world learned of a crisis within the team centering on what was alternately described as “hazing,” “initiation,” or “good, old-fashioned team building.” Scandal, too, it would seem, is in the eye of the beholder.

At the crux of the Dolphins controversy were two teammates, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. (Admit it, the first time you heard about this story, you thought that Richie Incognito was actually the name of a Batman villain.) Over the course of several months, Incognito engaged in harassment of Martin, featuring verbal abuse, profane text messages, and the regular threat of bodily harm to his teammate. Martin endured the treatment for a time until he chose to no longer endure it and instead to walk away from the team in the first half of the season. Why did Incognito behave in this way, you ask? Depends who you ask.

Martin paints a picture of Incognito as an angry bully with a bone to pick. Incognito, for his part, claims that he was acting not out of hate, but out of love and that his only desire was to help “toughen up” Martin. In essence, Incognito believed he was helping Martin to “become a man” and thereby enabling him to better perform his job as a lineman for the Miami Dolphins.

Tough Times for Testosterone

The following sentence may not be popular, but it is true: being a man is not easy these days. As the Incognito-Martin story highlights, never before have the role of men and the pursuit of manhood been more uncertain or ill-defined. And, it doesn’t take much perusal of popular media to see that truth writ large. Television and movies generally offer two archetypes of manhood, neither one particularly helpful or well-rounded.

First is the walked-on underachiever, worthy of little beyond scorn and pity. These kinds of men, typically, are married to dominant women who walk over them, raise children who don’t respect or obey them, and muddle through careers that don’t challenge or edify them. On the other hand is the lone wolf hero who takes orders from no one, settles all scores with swift and decisive action, wields both his weapon and his wit with impunity, and never lacks for confidence. I know no real life man who fits perfectly into either category.

Rather, I know men—and young men in their wake—who struggle to identify what it means to “be a man” and follow God in a world that offers poor examples of manhood and doesn’t desire to honor the Lord. Should we gravitate, like Incognito, toward hyper-masculine expressions of manhood that assert dominance at every turn? Or, does being a man in 2014 require putting that sort of thing completely to death? As is often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. And David helps us see a way forward.

A Masculine Monarch

At the beginning of 1 Kings 2, we read of the end of David’s reign over the nation of Israel and the dawn of Solomon’s. The old king knew that his days on earth were limited and, in one of his last acts of kingship, he summoned the young one who would take his place. David had some parting instructions for Solomon. But, how could David possibly summarize what he longed for Solomon to know, to be, to do in his new role as the monarch over the people of God?

I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man.

Offensive lineman and monarch, it would appear, require similar skill sets: strength and masculinity. But, just when it looks as though King David is going to turn into an Ancient Near Eastern version of Richie Incognito, the King surprises.

Keep the charge of the Lordyour God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,that the Lordmay establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, “If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.”

The kind of masculinity that David had in mind had nothing to do with locker room hazing, shocking text messages and not-at-all veiled threats of physical violence. Rather, it began with fear of the Lord and submission to his decrees. In God’s economy, what it means to be “a man” isn’t all that recognizable to the outside world.

To be sure, David went on to outline a plan of revenge and bloodshed that would have qualified him for some sensitivity training, but the starting point makes a difference. Whereas Incognito’s be strong and show yourself a manbegan with a perceived standard of strength and manliness that would have been commonly accepted in an NFL locker room—a fluctuating and individually interpreted standard that Incognito deemed Martin to have fallen short of—David’sbe strong and show yourself a man began with the revealed will of our unchanging Lord.

Toward Mature Manhood

Clearly, David’s charge to Solomon was not intended to function as a complete road map to masculinity for the man of God. Yet, it highlights four attributes of the man of God that are just as applicable in 2014 as they would have been in ancient Israel.

A true man of God is faithful.

This is evident from the outset of David’s instructions. Keep the charge of the Lordyour God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses.

Faithfulness to the Lord is the fundamental qualification for true manliness. While our culture’s messages invite men to forge our own path and take our directives only from our own internal compass, Scripture tells us otherwise. We were meant to serve the Lord, and to live out our truest masculinity demands that we not deny the call to submission, but rather embrace it. Fidelity to the Lord’s commands and character is the clearest hallmark of a true man of God.

A true man of God pursues justice.

David’s second concern for Solomon was that he rule justly. He reminded his son, Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet.Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.

Again, reading this passage might cause us to wince, but the issue at hand was the administration of justice. What Joab had done—spilling blood in a time of peace—was wrong. Such actions were not to be explained away, accepted, or tolerated. They required a response. To be a true man of God calls for just action. Where there is injustice—at home, at work, at play—we are called to respond. David expected this of Solomon and God expects this of his people.

A true man of God is kind.

This might seem an odd follow-up to the previous command, but kindness and justice don’t contradict one another, and David knew it. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother.

Kindness is a rare commodity in our world, characterized as it is by biting sarcasm, ruthless criticism, and double-barreled snark. Yet, just as David insisted that Solomon show kindness to the sons of Barzillai and invite them to dine at the royal table, the man of God is called to display the same kindness that God himself has shown to sinners like us.

A true man of God is courageous.

Finally, David urges his son to do the hard thing, the courageous thing. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, “I will not put you to death with the sword.”Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.

Why David left this particular item of business undone on his kingly to-do list is not clear, but what it would require of Solomon is very evident. The courage to do the right thing, even when challenging or costly, is a characteristic of the true man of God. And the courage that Solomon needed to deal with Shimei is the same type of courage that we need to live lives that are pleasing to God in the midst of a culture increasingly hostile to such an endeavor.

Our Manliest Model

If living a faithful, just, kind, and courageous life doesn’t seem particularly manly, perhaps we’ve taken our cues from the culture more than we realize. Although not a complete picture of manliness, these four traits certainly point us in the right direction. In the direction of Jesus.

After all, it is Jesus who shows us most clearly what it means to be fully human—dare I say, fully man—and his ministry and life were consistently marked by faithfulness, justice, kindness, and courage. And, we would do well to emulate his example.

So, men, in the year ahead, let’s push ourselves toward more authentic manhood. Not the kind proliferated by vicious text messages, but the kind articulated by David and demonstrated by the Son of David. Perhaps a generation from now, the image of masculinity that comes to mind will include run-of-the-mill men living in unprecedented godly fashion. There isn’t a Hall of Fame for that, but there should be.