The Punch Heard Round The World -The NY Jets’ Geno Smith and A Teachable Moment About Manhood

This week, the NFL and football fans everywhere were up in arms (or at least shaking their heads incessantly) about news that the New York Jets star quarterback, Geno Smith, would be out 6-10 weeks after suffering a broken jaw at the hands of a punch to the face by his teammate, IK Enemkpali. According to reports, the two argued over $600 allegedly owed by Smith to Enemkpali, who had paid the money for Smith to fly out to Enemkpali’s football camp in July (it is very common for NFL players to host and sponsor camps for children in the summer that are attended by their NFL friends for charity). The problems reportedly started when Smith didn’t attend the camp due to the death of his friend, but promised to repay Enemkpali the $600. For whatever reason, Smith had still not yet repaid the money, resulting in a locker-room confrontation between the two.

Unfortunately, the media is missing a golden opportunity to learn or teach anything of value from this incident, where one young man has jeopardized his NFL career and a half million dollar salary, and another has to have surgery, and will possibly lose his job as the Jets starting quarterback. Fact is, the same pitfalls that caused this situation, are the same ones that get boys expelled from school, arrested, incarcerated, and killed – every single day. There are fundamental truths about “manhood” that need to be reinforced, and this case raises a perfect time to do so. Here are three:

  1. Manhood is NOT measured, proven or demonstrated by aggression – as in, the more aggressive he is, the more manly he is. This aggression manifests itself in many ways – short temper, violence and hostility, to name a few. His ability to differentiate when it is appropriate to be aggressive, from when it is not, will be distorted because this ability is taught and learned. A good father, or the right mentor, will teach our boys that manhood is reflected in having the judgment to decide when aggression is necessary and when it is unnecessary to achieve a desired result. The right mentors will teach our boys that a man who cannot control his temper and whose actions are determined by his fleeting emotions is foolish, and is actually weak, not strong.
  2. When you make a mistake, or exercise poor judgment, your past offenses may be brought to the forefront. Things you may have done wrong even as a child may be revisited, dissected and discussed ad nauseam, whether or not they have anything to do with the current situation. In the criminal justice system, the first thing a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a judge look at, are the defendant’s or suspect’s criminal history. What has he done in the past? Has he been arrested before? Has he been convicted of anything before? How long ago was it? History matters – lets teach our boys to be the thoughtful authors of their own history.
  3. Your reputation is everything. You are not entitled to the benefit of the doubt – you earn it by building your reputation. Playing devil’s advocate, it is very possible that in this situation, Smith was “more wrong”, was the antagonizer, and “had it coming” as people sometimes like to say. However, a look at how the media has portrayed the incident and Enemkpali, no one would ever know that he wasn’t a hot-headed villain – because he has not built a reputation that demands the benefit of the doubt. I read in one report that prior to being punched, Smith was wagging his finger in Enemkpali’s face. But I haven’t seen that fact reported since. The reality is that in the real world, unless you are backed by your reputation, you don’t get the benefit of “the good facts” or the one’s that make you look better. Part of being a man is learning the value of your reputation, and protecting it at all costs.

Follow Mervin Bourne, author of the forthcoming book, “A Single Mother’s Guide to Raising a Son”, at, on FB at mervinabournejr, and on Twitter @MervinBourne

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