Calling the Shots: Recent scandal shows bullying is not just in schools


Fellow Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Richie Incognito (left) and Jonathan Martin (right) exchange words during a game during the 2013-2014 NFL season. Neither player is currently with the team. In the Dophins’ following game, the team lost to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, Nov. 11 with a score of 22-19.

Seth Barshay, Sports Editor

Different societies, cultures, and environments include elements of bullying.  Schools are a prime example.  Throw a bunch of  teenagers together for an extended period of time and there will be bullying.  The recent addition of social media and electronic communication adds to the problem.  However, Port Washington and other school’s zero tolerance policy with bullying has gone a significant way toward combatting bullying in the schools.

The nation has recently gotten a glimpse into another environment where bullying takes place, the locker room of the Miami Dolphins.  According to Jonathan Martin, an extended period of bullying by teammate and fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito recently caused him to take a leave of absence from the team.

The facts are not yet clear, but this much appears to be true.  Martin, a Stanford graduate in his second season in the NFL, left the Dolphins on Oct. 30 to address “emotional issues” caused by repeated hazing led by Incognito.  The hazing included a graphic, expletive-filled voicemail containing racial slurs sent by Incognito to Martin, along with threats to both Martin and his mother.  The Dolphins subsequently suspended Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.  More unpleasant facts are sure to follow.

It probably came as a shock to many of us that bullying exists on an NFL team, but maybe it should not have.  Many members of football teams are young men, recently out of school.  Professional football is violent and many who play carry themselves with a warrior mentality.  It is not difficult to see ha ow these elements could come together in a relatively unsupervised environment to permit bullying.

The closed culture of many teams is also a contributing factor.

“When you’re part of a team, it can become even more difficult.  This is because of the culture that teams sometimes carry with them, that nothing is supposed to leave the team and their locker room,” said Principal Mr. Ira Pernick.

Not surprisingly, Incognito does not take full blame for his actions.  The violence, harsh words, and overall nasty tactics present in his relationship with Martin are, to Incognito, completely justified.

To Incognito, the two were buddies.  He “had Martin’s back.”  Threats, racial slurs, and overall subjugation were just Incognito’s method of “team building.”  Of course, the results of this so-called team building are a suspended lineman and a possibly permanently wounded psyche.

Incognito obviously does not get it.  Bullying is wrong, and should not be tolerated in any environment, not even the tough guy environment of an NFL locker room.  While in the past the public has overlooked this, countless graphic examples of the consequences of bullying in schools has turned society against bullying.  It may exist, but when made public, the perpetrators reputations are ruined; this appears to be Incognito’s fate.

But fault in this case does not lie only with Incognito.  Rather than being supportive of Martin, members of the Miami Dolphins have rallied around the man who has been ranked as the dirtiest player in the NFL.  In their eyes, Martin is in the wrong for not having stood up for himself or spoken up.   Martin broke the code of the team’s culture by shedding light on the bullying to the public.  In their view, it is the victim who is at fault.

Team culture is a creation of team members.  The real question to ask here is not why Martin did not stand up for himself earlier; it is why did Martin’s teammates not lift a finger to help him.  Where were the men with enough courage to stand up to the league’s dirty player when he was bullying one of their own?  Why did they not insist, if for no other reason than for the good of the team, that Incognito behave like a human being?  Clearly men of such courage and conviction are not present in the Dolphins locker room, just as they are not present in many other bullying situations.

Coaches and management bear a large amount of blame as well.  Either Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin knew about the bullying, or he should have known.  In the NFL, the head coach is the leader of the team both on and off the field, and it is his responsibility to know if one of his players is bullying another and put a stop to it.  It is also his responsibility to create a culture on the team where players do not live in fear of threats and acts of violence.

Further, management is responsible for putting the team together.  This includes making sure the team includes mature, thoughtful, and courageous team leaders who can keep bullies, like Incognito, in check.

A critical measure to put in place to protect the victims of bullying is to provide them with figures of authority to whom they can turn.

“In general, I think the hardest thing to do is the most important thing to do, and that is to go talk to an adult,” said Mr. Pernick.

Fortunately, in Schreiber and many other schools, adults who will take action and enforce the zero tolerance rule are present.  Unfortunately for Martin, this did not appear to be the case for the Miami Dolphins.