I would love to hear from Jonathan Martin,the 6-feet-5, 312-pound offensive lineman who walked out of the Miami Dolphins’ team lunchroom last week because, apparently, he’d had enough.
Nobody knew what to think at the time; since it’s become clear that teammate and fellow O-lineman
Richie Incognito was picking on Martin with threatening text messages and voicemails.
America has been on an anti-bullying campaign for a while now. If you watch television, you’ll see a public service message that outlines the perils of bullying in almost every hour of programming. As we have evolved, we have learned that kids who get picked on and bullied are more prone to killing themselves.
Well, bullying doesn’t stop inside the halls of high schools. It can happen to grown men who play football for a living. And it appears to have happened to Martin, a second-year player who went to Stanford.
From reading media accounts, Martin is a quiet man who put up with the bullying for a while, until he apparently couldn’t stand it.
The incident has sparked a national discussion, one that too often centers on Martin and his apparent unwillingness to confront Incognito or take his concerns to Miami coach Joe Philbin.
Many people believe Incognito’s behavior is not the problem here. Those people point a finger at Martin for “being soft,” a term popular in the macho world of football. Men being men has been used as excuse for all kinds of boorish behavior, but it doesn’t fly.
Civilized people know better. Yes, we enjoy watching these professional football players fly around in games. But when the games are over, is it expecting too much for them to put aside their bravado and treat one another as human beings?
Some Dophins players cite a football culture that makes hazing young players a rite of passage. They dismiss these accusations against Igcognito by saying it was all in good fun.
In good fun for whom?
Certainly not for Martin, who will now probably never play football for the Dolphins or any other NFL team for that matter.
For Martin is now as marked a man as Incognito, perhaps even more so. Players can at least relate to Incognito’s misgivings. Few would claim to understand Martin’s perspective for fear of being “soft.”
Incognito earned a vile reputation through his college football stops at Nebraska and Oregon, then in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. He has bragged about his drinking and drug use and been named the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of colleagues.
That he was trusted by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin as one of six players on the team’s “leadership council,” shows how out of touch Philbin seems to be.
How can a head coach not be aware of a locker-room atmosphere that accepts and perhaps even encourages a bully-ship hierarchy, for lack of a better term. And if the coach is unaware, isn’t that indictment worse?
Incognito has been suspended from the team, thank goodness. But it shouldn’t have come to this.
Philbin and the Dolphins’ front office missed a chance to lead from the front and now is scrambling to catch up.
Yet the massive public debate on this subject is divided. Surprisingly so. There are many people who believe Martin could have handled this differently by confronting Incognito or going to the coaching staff.
My opinion is that Martin felt as if he had nowhere to turn. It’s hard for me to believe that Incognito’s bullying was done in such a way that no other Miami players knew what was going on. Many of those players have lined up behind Incognito, expressing their views that he had done nothing wrong and that his absence from the team is unjustified.
I will assume the players would not feel the same way if their young children were being picked on at school by someone one or two grades older.
Bullying is bullying. It happens with kids and it happens with adults.
I remember being out in my yard mowing probably 15 years ago. My neighbor, a man I did not know well, approached me upset about cutting some of the grass in his yard. He threatened me and said if I ever did it again, there would be trouble.
We’re talking about a foot of grass on this man’s property that I may or may not have mowed.
I was so stunned that I don’t think I had a response. But that incident stayed with me. I was angry that I didn’t confront him right then and there. I was successfully bullied. And we can’t let the bullies in our society win.
That’s why there is such a strong anti-bullying movement in this country. Bullies need to be put in their place, then stamped out all together. We need to treat one another with respect and it has to start at an early age.
Incognito has talked about how he was bullied as a kid. It’s not surprising, then, that he has had his own bullying issues. What’s surprising is that he hasn’t outgrown them. But some never do unless they’re made to.
Martin, meanwhile, is in a state of limbo. When he walked out of that lunchroom last week, some of his teammates no doubt believe, he walked out on them.
That’s just not the case. He walked out on a bully. He walked out because of fear and helplessness.