Miami bullying scandal shines light on seldom addressed problem
The Miami Dolphins are in the middle of a monumental public relations meltdown.
The disgusting events of the last two weeks as they relate to offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and guard Richie Incognito have sent shock waves throughout the National Football League. Consistent and unsuppressed bullying by Incognito led to Martin leaving the team a week ago Monday. He walked out. He left after a lunchtime incident that appears to have been the final straw. He sat at a table with fellow teammates and they all got up and moved to another table. He had enough. Martin could not take it any longer. He threw down his tray and left the practice facility.
A standout at Stanford, Martin is a 1 1/2 year veteran of the NFL. He played right alongside Incognito on the Dolphins line. Teammates. Supposedly on the same side of the ball. He was immersed in a sport where one is supposed to have his comrade’s back. However, it appears more apparent with each passing day that Incognito had a different, perverse agenda.
Martin’s parents applauded his decision. They spoke of how great it was to have him out of that toxic environment. They were glad to have him home. Martin has sought counseling as a result of the apparent ongoing, relentless taunting and hazing by Incognito.
Seems odd. Here is a family that, like many of us, watched their son play sports on all levels. He made it to a Division I college in Stanford. He was drafted in the second round. He started immediately for the Dolphins. It seemed like a family’s dream. 18 months later, it had evolved into their worst nightmare.
There is something wrong here.
Incognito sent him text messages over time. Sources say they were not isolated incidents. They included racial epithet multiple times as well as derogatory terms relating to female anatomy and sexual orientation. It was a history of abuse that went on, unabated, over a lengthy period of time.
In Martin’s mind, the only resolution was to leave the Miami Dolphins, abandon his NFL dream, and start to hopefully heal. What a sad editorial on professional football.
It was tough to read the script of the phone message left for Martin by Incognito. It was laced with profanity and racial slurs, and was punctuated with the sentence, “I’ll kill you.”
There is no room for this in any environment, especially competitive sports. Richie Incognito is a ruthless, pathetic bully. He does not deserve to play in any sports league, let alone the NFL.
As you might imagine, comments have varied.
Mike Ditka commented, “I don’t know why his teammates didn’t step in and do something.”
Keyshawn Johnson remarked, “There is no place in the locker room for this.”
ESPN analyst Tom Jackson said, “He is a racist, a bully. This is off the charts.”
On NFL live, Herm Edwards stated, “Bullying a player in any manner is not a part of the NFL, and you put a stop to it right away. At some point, someone has to stick up for this guy on the team.”
However, Dolphins player Cameron Wake saw it differently when he stated, “This is an elite group of men. You have to pay your dues.”
However, this appears to have gone far beyond paying dues. It was excessive, over the top, inexcusable. It was harsh enough to cause a player making exceptional money to turn his back on the entire debacle. It was yet another shameful black-eye for the NFL.
Martin was part of a group of rookies who are alleged to have picked up a $30,000 bill for a dinner for the veterans. He quietly did so.
Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick tweeted, “Everything tastes better when a rookie pays for it.”
This is not only a travesty for specifically the NFL, but for society in general. When are we going to learn? We see a 12 year old shooting other students over persistent bullying. A young student takes her life after being targeted on Facebook. Students go to school in silence in the hopes it will someday go away. Yet, they hate the bully and they wish there was some way to get away from it. It ruins lives, causes poor scholastic performances, and ruins a high school experience.
Have you ever been bullied? I know how it feels and it is tough. It seems like it will never go away. It hurts. You hate school. It robs you of the best times of your life. Sometimes it even goes into adulthood. For me, it is an all-too-recent experience. So, the Incognito/Martin experience surely opens wounds. This should be an alarm to all of us. Although it might not be close to home, certain events surely have been.
Dave Humphers has been a part of the Nevada County sports landscape for many years. Before retirement, he stood at the helm of the Nevada Union football program. Things have not always been perfect.
In a recent interview, he offered, “We have been really strict and proactive with the rules as they relate to hazing. We have strict rules in place. We take quick action with discipline.”
He admits it has been a problem in the distant past.
“We have had issues in the past in the locker room. We would find out if a student came to us or if we saw it. Sometimes, we heard from a parent. However we find out, we made sure everyone knew how to treat each other at Nevada Union. It has been a clear message. I was upset and disgusted with what was happening in Miami.”
Now we wait for the NFL’s next step. One can only hope it is a decisive one. If Incognito is given a slap on the hand and allowed to play next season, it will be a failure of the system, of human rights. Yet, one wonders whether the locker room code of conduct will be addressed. If there was ever a time for it, it is now.
Bullies know who they are. They are pathetic in their attempt to ruin other’s lives. It cannot be stated in more harsh terms. The Martins of the world cannot face the authority figures like coach Joe Philbin who seemed stunned by the whole matter. How could leadership be so oblivious? Or were they? Is this just an example of damage control? Time will tell.
It is a wake-up call for all of us. It is a disturbing editorial on certain aspects of society. Those intent on ruining other’s lives have no place. It is addressed in our schools.
When will we all be more diligent and forthright? How many more of these incidents will it take?
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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