Bullying has become a part of our national conscience in recent years as incidents of school violence increase and bullying is often found to be at the root of those incidents. Everyone has probably been bullied at one point in their lives. I know personally I was bullied constantly from elementary school all the way through high school and over 20 years later I still carry memories of those times with me. And now bullying in sports is taking the spotlight thanks to Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
If you have been living under a rock then to recap what’s happening, Jonathan Martin is a second-year offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins who recently left the team to deal with some emotional issues. It has since come to light that those issues stem from his treatment by several teammates, most prominently fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito. Incognito was the ringleader in a series of humiliating actions directed toward Martin and additionally left him messages where he threatened physical violence, degrading and vile acts he would do to Martin, threatened to assault Martin’s mother and also to kill Martin himself. And he laughed while he was doing it.
Now NFL locker rooms are commonly known for being difficult environments. The pervasive tough guy culture of the NFL and nature of football where often times the game comes down to physically imposing your will on your opponent creates a fertile environment for a bullying culture to grow. Add to that the commonality of hazing rookies and it is probably not a surprise that something like this happened.
Recently I was alerted to this post that someone made about the Jonathan Martin situation and its content shocked me. I expected that the general public was in agreement that bullying in any environment was wrong. Apparently I was incorrect.
My initial reaction to reading this was shock, followed shortly thereafter by anger. I could not, and still do not, understand why anyone would think that it would be OK for one human being to treat another this way. This is not an NFL issue, this is a societal, human decency issue. And with his actions Incognito violated the social contract to treat other humans with the dignity and respect that they deserve. His workplace could not and should not factor into the judgment of his actions.
Not convinced, then let me turn your attention to the Be A Star campaign. The Be A Star campaign, if you are not familiar, is an anti-bullying campaign that was started in 2011 and it sends representatives to schools and community centers around the country a few times a month to talk about ending bullying and has collected over 30,000 pledges from children around the world to help end bullying.
And who are these representatives that are sent to these schools to teach children about stopping bullying? WWE superstars, that’s who. Yes, the WWE, an organization that makes money by showing scripted, violent, athletic drama is the major player in a world-wide anti-bullying campaign. The NFL could learn something from that.
Still not convinced? Ask yourself this, if this happened to you: one of your coworkers, who has been previously convicted of assault as Incognito has, called you at home and told you they were going to defecate in your mouth, slap your mother and kill you, how would you react? Call human resources? Maybe even call the police? I know that’s how I would react. This would be the very definition of a hostile work environment and in pretty much every other workplace the perpetrator would be disciplined up to and likely including losing their job.
To anyone who would reply saying that the NFL is different, it’s not a typical workplace, I agree it is not. It is not populated by normal people, NFL players are elite athletes and competitors, however they are also role models. And if you are going to select a role model for your child, who are you going to pick? The guy who has been convicted of assault and is threatening to kill his coworker, or the guy who has been subjected to unwanted humiliation and degradation just to make one of his coworkers feel powerful, but eventually had the inner strength to stand up and say enough was enough. I know who I’d pick every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
To Richie Incognito I say that I hope you get the help that you need, you learn and become a better person from this. The greatest trials are often our greatest opportunities and for you the opportunity is there to become a better person and to become a powerful advocate for change if you choose to walk that road. I truly hope you do.
And to Jonathan Martin, I say be proud of what you did and who you are. There is no place in society for how you were treated and you are a brave and strong man for bearing it as long as you did. I sincerely hope that this story will carry forward so that no one else has to go through what you did in the NFL or anywhere else. I may never be a Miami Dolphins fan, but of you, I always will be.