Last week's Halloween, the last day in the month of October also happens to be the last day of National Bullying Prevention Month. Coincidentally, last week's nationally-televised NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals served as a fitting stage for this issue which is gaining heightened awareness. Reflective of the disturbing incidents of bullying-related damage, particularly on our nation's high school age youth, Dolphins starting right tackle Jonathan Martin was absent from the lineup. Martin left the Dolphin's training facility on Monday after "finally reaching his limit with the persistent bullying and teasing from some teammates." (2)
According to FOX Sports, Martin's frustration "stemmed from 1 ½ seasons of bullying and taunting from some teammates that had gone beyond the player hazing that sometimes occurs in NFL locker rooms." The original article by Alex Marvez, referenced specific examples of targeted bullying towards Martin. Sources detail him dealing with a 'slew of indignities that crossed into personal and family insults' as well as being referred to as 'Big Weirdo' by teammates. (3)
Martin's case is no different than any other taunting situation in today's society in which a person finds themselves being continuously mistreated in an intentional and hurtful way. Reading through the comments section of Marvez's article clearly exemplifies the confusion between 'tough love' and ongoing bulling, especially when it comes to sports. Instead of assuming a professional football player should be 'tough' enough to handle locker room antics, the media and our society should demonstrate empathy and demand both accountability and acceptance.
The situation provides an opportunity for the NFL and Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to set a precedent, establishing a strict position against bullying rather than continuing to refer to Martin's self-imposed leave as an 'illness.'
Not surprisingly, FOX Football Daily featuring broadcasters Curt Menefee, Jay Glazer and former NFL players, Kirk Morrison, Brian Urlacher, and Terrell Thomas makes reference to the story with the opinion that Martin needs help or treatment. "The number one concern is him... I think whatever's wrong with him, they need to figure it out and get him back in there. I think the best rehab is to be around your teammates." Really, Urlacher? While the reporters may not have been fully up to speed on the ongoing taunting at the time of the segment, one of the former players is actually caught laughing as Glazer explains the specific event which caused Martin to leave the Dolphins facility. That exact attitude and the lack of understanding how ones actions and words affect others IS the problem. (1)
While Martin may need treatment and there very well may be much deeper, underlying issues, the overriding problem lies in the obvious fact that his teammates, coaches, trainers, and the Miami Dolphins Organization did not do enough to help this young player. By their inaction, they, in effect, condoned the bullying and fostered it as a part of their culture.
Right now, the Dolphins (and the NFL) have a unique opportunity to right this wrong and draw national awareness to anti-bullying efforts. They have a teammate in need of support and a nation of kids, struggling with the same problems looking up to them as role models.
1 - Video
2 - Original article
3 - HBO's Hardknocks