News broke that a Miami Dolphins player was incessantly bullied by a teammate, and some people's reaction was — the player isn't a victim, he's a soft wimp who needs to man up.
That's B.S. — bully sympathizing.
In schools, there have been many amazing efforts to reduce bullying. In the corporate world, bullying probably will get you fired. But in sports, of all levels, there seems to be a blurred line about what's acceptable and not, and how it should be policed.
I enjoy talking to Broncos offensive lineman Winston Justice, but I was definitely surprised by his take on Monday.
“I'll be honest with you, I think (Jonathan) Martin totally overdramatized the whole thing,” he said of the player who left Miami after being bullied by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito. “I mean, come on. Bullying is bad, but when you're a 25-year-old man, it's not bullying. Get over it. Talk back to him. (Football) is the only atmosphere — this is not the corporate world — where you could probably fight the guy and it would be accepted. You can't do it in the corporate world, you can't do it at school, but here with men, you could do that. If we change that, it's going to change the culture of football.”
Some people say: It's the NFL, that these are men's men who should put up with tough stuff because they're built that way.
I say: it's people like them who let people like Richie Incognito get away with being Richie Incognito.
Bullies are a huge problem in our culture, but so are bully sympathizers, who loom in the sports world.
Bully sympathizers will say that the emotionally harassed Martin should just brush it all off and focus on football. That mind-set is as antiquated as calling a concussed player “dinged up,” giving him some smelling salts and throwing him back out there for third down.
Incognito's actions redefine deranged. For instance, a transcripted voicemail Incognito left for Martin used the N-word, a slew of expletives and threatening atrocities. Whether Martin is equipped with mental strength or isn't as mentally strong, it shouldn't matter. Martin shouldn't be judged. And who's to say Martin isn't one of Miami's more mentally tough players, but Incognito's cruelty was just overwhelming for any person?
“Again, I think bullying is wrong,” Justice said. “I just try to put it in perspective with my son. If he was 24 or 25 and said, 'Someone's bullying me,' I'll tell him: 'You're not going to get any consoling from me. You need to go back and handle that, because you're a grown man.' But if he's 16, it's different.”
I'll say that Martin's choice to just leave the Dolphins, instead of talking with a coach or team leader, might have been extreme. Then again, if he was willing to temporarily give up his NFL dream, it shows just how bad the hazing might have been.
A fistfight wouldn't necessarily have stopped Incognito — and Justice wasn't saying they must fight it out, but at least talk it out. But here's the thing, Incognito was on the team's leadership council, so what good would it have done for Martin to talk to the leadership council? Maybe Martin should have gone to a coach, but clearly Martin was so caught up in this whirlwind of emotions, his decision was simply to escape this wrath.
The hope, of course, is that good can come from all of this. That NFL teams realize that there might be Incognitos in their locker rooms, and that it's not guys like Incognito who define toughness and bravado. Bullies think they're tough, but they don't toughen teams. And in this extreme case, a bully is tearing one apart.