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Bullying in the NFL

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By Brandon Niles Explore Big Sky Sports Columnist
The Miami Dolphins locker room is a mess right now. Starting offensive tackle
and second year player Jonathan Martin left the team and veteran starting
offensive guard Richie Incognito is suspended from the team indefinitely,
following accusations of bullying Martin.
The evidence on this matter is still coming in. What we know is that Martin
left the team and sought medical treatment for emotional distress. We also
know Dolphins officials have denied knowledge of the bullying, which had
reportedly been ongoing for at least the past six months. Richie Incognito
was indefinitely suspended following the release of a voice message he left
for Martin with racist and violent language.
The question is whether Incognito took it too far, or if Martin should toughen
up.
Bullying happens in locker rooms and other places where testosterone runs
freely. I’ve been in military and sports environments where hazing, teasing
and other rites of passage are commonplace, and sometimes harmlessly
entertaining.
I have no doubt that this situation is going to continue to develop as more
information becomes available. There are players and pundits coming down
on both sides of the issue. Most Dolphins players are defending Incognito and
pundits are discussing whether the organization and coaching staff is at
fault. This is likely a situation where everyone is to blame.
Football is a violent sport. Young athletes are taught to be aggressive, hit
hard and never show weakness. If they make it to the NFL, they are
incentivized with high salaries to maintain that aggression and inflict pain on
opposing players. For better or worse, this is unequivocally a part of football
culture. Furthermore, hazing as a form of initiation or camaraderie is
something boys learn at young age and often continue through their careers.
Players from around the league and some in the media are blaming the
culture. NFL.com quoted wide receiver Brandon Marshall of the Chicago
Bears as saying, “it’s time for us to start talking” about these issues. Detroit
Lions running back Reggie Bush said, “anytime a guy gets pushed to that
level of not wanting to play football then something has to be done,”
according to the website.
Complicating matters is Richie Incognito’s history. Now with his third team,
he’s gained a dubious reputation in the league. Incognito’s been voted in the
top five of the NFL’s dirtiest players multiple times by his peers in an annual
Sporting News poll. He was released by the St. Louis Rams in 2009, days
after receiving two penalties in a game in which he head-butted members of
the opposing team.
Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today recently reported that while playing at the
University of Nebraska in 2002, “Incognito once bullied a teammate so badly
that the teammate suddenly got up from the ground and stomped out of
football practice.”
Martin is a quiet kid from Stanford University. In my scouting reports prior to
the 2012 draft, I saw him as a good player who lacked killer instinct and
would need to toughen up. Martin apparently has never really been a
welcome addition to the team. Players have said he’s disinterested, that he
never wanted to be part of the group, and that Incognito was always pushing
him, trying to get the most out of him.
Without knowing the whole story, my take on it is simple: Richie Incognito is
a bully, loses his cool and makes questionable decisions on the field. He may
have assumed he was helping Martin, and Martin probably didn’t feel
comfortable standing up for himself. He should’ve handled it in-house, but
instead a media circus has ensued, which has effectively cost the Dolphins
two starting offensive lineman.
Whether or not Martin handled it the right way, we have him to thank for this
issue being forced into the national conversation, a place it should’ve been
decades ago.

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