Bullying In The NFL: What We Can Learn From The Football Scandal

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In the past few weeks, theNFL’s Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito has been all over the news due to allegations of bullying.

Second year lineman Jonathan Martin, who played on the same team, has accused the veteran linemen of harassing him to the point that Martin quit the team. He has even accused Incognito of using racial slurs.

However, many Dolphin teammates are backing Incognito, saying he is a great teammate, player and friend. On November 4, the team suspended Incognito, saying “We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another, and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time.”

As the story has unfolded, I’ve been asking friends and family about their opinions because I can see both sides. I have seen men in my life – men who are not even close to the competitive level of NFL athletes – pick on each other. They do it in a joking way and loving way. Sometimes, when I hear my husband make fun of his friend’s shoes or new haircut, I’m like.. “that’s mean!” But isn’t that how boys are?!?!

When is does it cross the line? When does it become bullying?

We teach our children not to bully each other by correcting their behavior if they tease each other or friends from school. But in the world of professional or high-level sports, I would imagine that hazing and goofing around is considered “traditional locker room behavior.”

Teammate Randy Starks said “We joke with each other. You can’t have thin skin around here.”  Was Incognito just joking, like he did with other teammates and friends? Or did it go too far?

Many athletes around the league have been commenting on the fact that Martin made it a public issue, deriding him as a “traitor” for sharing the locker room behavior with the world. Some have sarcastically wished Martin luck trying to find a job again in the NFL. 

But that’s not fair! Maybe he did say something to the coach and to the other players, and was ignored. The NFL is a dream job right? Martin left his “dream job,” which I’m sure wasn’t an easy decision.. Shouldn’t he be seen as brave for speaking up about what happened?

On Sunday, Incognito sat down with FOX Sports and said “he did not intend to hurt [Martin].” He also told Fox Sports that Martin texted him, “I will murder your whole family,” but added that he knew it was a joke. 

Um, hello? A text about murdering his family does not sound like a “friendly joke to me.” I am so confused by this whole story – and if what we are reading and hearing is interviews is true, part of me feels like both guys are in the wrong. 

I also wonder – if this was a women’s team, would this even be a discussion? If Incognito was a girl picking on his girl teammate, I think we would side immediately with Martin. We wouldn’t be calling her weak or a wimp for sticking up for herself. She would be seen as strong and brave for standing up to the bullies.

I have a feeling there is more to this story, and it’s going to come out over the next few weeks. But whatever the end result, one thing is has done is brought even more awareness to the issue of bullying. It has shown that bullying does not just take place in schools, and does not just happen between children. 

The NFL is a workplace. And if “bullying” is going on at that workplace I am sure it’s also happening in other workplaces. We are teaching our children not to bully at school, but are we still being bullies at works? At the playground with other moms? 

Before we sign another Anti-Bullying Campaign pledge, let’s show our kids how to respect one another by example. It is the best way for them to learn.

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