Sunday, October 26, 2014

Editorial: Crossing a line

Has bullying become a serious issue in the NFL?

The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin conflict is certainly not a simple situation. The two were teammates with the Miami Dolphins NFL team during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but Martin left the team in late October of 2013, citing repeated bullying by his fellow offensive lineman, Incognito.

Over the past several months, some of the content of text messages and voicemails has come out that is far too explicit to repeat. Incognito spewed threats and racial slurs at Martin, and that is just the stuff that was recorded. To say the messages were shocking is like saying the Taj Mahal looks pretty nice.

According to yahoosports.com, agent Ted Wells identified another player who was a victim in the bullying scandal. Offensive tackle Andrew McDonald was identify as “Player A” in Wells’ report. McDonald played for the Dolphins in 2012.

Recently, the Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and dismissed trainer Kevin O’Neill as part of the situation as well.

The word “bullying” has been thrown around in this case, but that may be a very narrow way of looking at it. There are two different ways people can view the word “bullying.”

The first view is held by people who have never been bullied. They see bullying as something unfortunate, but trivial. As long as nobody is going to the hospital, everything is okay. Words are harmless. The old phrase “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt” is how they view bullying.

The second view is held by people who have been bullied. They know how damaging the wrongful actions of a person or group of persons can be on a psychological, emotional and even physical level. They know that their lives were made into a living nightmare at times by people who deemed themselves superior.

I have been lucky enough to only have been the victim of bullying on one occasion, but it will always be engrained in my mind. I was at the bus stop with some older school mates waiting to get picked up to go to class, and I was thrown onto the ground repeatedly while being called names, leaving my freshly-cleaned school clothes coated in dirt and my right arm adorned with scrapes. I ran home in tears and told my mom I did not want to go to school. I felt anger, but I was also ashamed and embarrassed, even though I did nothing wrong. I was abused.

One of the biggest problems with bullying is the casualness in which people look at the simple term of “bullying.” What if we stopped calling it “bullying” and began calling the same actions “abuse?”

Martin was continually verbally abused by his teammate Incognito. He left the team so he would not have to be a part of that kind of situation anymore.

Critics of Martin have portrayed Incognito as just being a regular football guy taking jabs at his teammate. It happens to everybody, they say. Sure, locker rooms are not the most proper places on earth. Teammates joke around with each other all the time, and not all the jokes are rated PG. But there is a line between friendly, disparaging humor and mean-spirited verbal abuse, and Incognito crossed it.

Martin is a 6-foot-5-inch, 312-pound man, but he has the same emotions as the rest of us. He was done being told that he was somehow less of a person than
Incognito. There is nothing soft about that.

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