Jam of the week: "Stop The Dams" by Gorillaz
While I'm still reveling in the Bears win on Monday night against the Packers, it's far from the biggest story in the NFL right now. It's not allegations of steroid use, it's not a new report about player concussions. Rather, it's bullying.
An ESPN report just a few days ago has already brought consequences for the main player involved in the ordeal. The issue centers around the Miami Dolphins players Jonathan Martin and guy who stole my magician stagename Richie Incognito. The former has played in the NFL for two years after graduating from Stanford and the latter is a veteran with a bad streak going back to locker room altercations at Nebraska.
Sports Writer Adam Schefter broke the story that Incognito had been bullying Martin during his time with the Dolphins. The bullying came in several forms. Incognito left voicemail messages to Martin, which allegedly contain racist slurs against Martin and also saying, "...you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."
Not satisfied with verbal harassment, Incognito allegedly went after Martin's lunch money. He asked Martin to give money to an unofficial team trip to Las Vegas. Martin gave him $15,000. Shocking, but not surprising for someone voted the NFL's "Dirtiest Player" in a 2009 player poll by Sporting News.
The Dolphins have been doing the PR dance and denying wrongdoing. However, they have suspended Incognito and there are questions as to whether he will ever return to the organization. Martin is getting therapy. Now that the story has broken, ex-players who were bullied and were bullies are talking more about it in the league.
An ABC News story talked with Marcellus Wiley, defensive end until 2006, said he one left a $32,000 restaurant bill to a group of rookies. When he was the newbie in the league, he described hazing from having sticky fluid poured on him to being taped to a goal post in the nude. However, at the time, he didn't see it as bullying. Now, he said things have changed.
"I didn't think it was abuse, but I'm desensitized. I was both a victim and a bully, and never had conversations about it," he said.
Another ex-player, Isaiah Kacyvenski, a guy who proves there are polish last names that are harder to pronounce than mine, also played up until 2006. The Harvard grad shared the preconception of being the "rich, pampered kid" when he went into the League. He describes the culture in the NFL as one that makes you a target for ridicule if you stick out.
"Having someone be the butt of jokes has been around for a long time. It's like a cancer that eats away at your team," he said.
An NPR story on the bulling case brought up the point that kids who are bullied can look at Martin, a strong, successful adult, and see that bullying is pervasive in many areas of life and not just the schoolyard.
A Yahoo Sports piece by Eric Adelson describes what I think is the best lesson to take away from this case. Incognito was bullied in third grade according to a story by Bruce Feldman from 2012. After being called a "whale," among other things, Incognito punched his bully in the face. The Yahoo story said he was not proud of his action, saying he and his bully were both scared.
In this case, Martin fought back without violence and is getting help. While some players like Tim Tebow describe some hazing incidents like getting his hair cut to look like a monestarial monk as simple locker room shenanigans, starting a dialogue when the line is crossed into torment is more mature than perpetuating the circle of bullying.