A couple weeks ago, I wrote a short story and posted here. The story was not all autobiographical, but there were certainly elements that happened almost word for word from my junior high days. Most notably was the final scene where Scott tries to stand up for himself to the bully Randy Weber. I’ll come back to that in just a bit.
But let’s switch gears slightly and talk about Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins. I follow sports, especially football and this has been getting a lot of attention this week. Let’s break it down.
The story first came to light last week when Martin suddenly left the Dolphins. The first media reports noted an “emotional breakdown” and the football team claimed he had an “illness” at the time, but there was clearly more to the story. Over the course of a few days, it came out that Richie Incognito had been harassing Martin. Here is a voicemail left by Incognito to Martin back in April:
Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of [expletive] . . . I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. [I want to] [expletive] in your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your [expletive] mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face (laughter). [Expletive] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.
That apparently was just the tip of the iceberg with verified text messages showing similar slurs and threats. We can only imagine what Richie Incognito did in person. But, apparently the stress of it got so bad that Martin felt the only way out was to simply quit. This is a man who was a 2nd Round draft pick last year by the Miami Dolphins, making millions of dollars to play a game who decides the best course of action is to quit.
I heard Dan Le Betard from ESPN Radio and based in Miami say something great about this. There are a lot of people saying that Martin should have stood up for himself, perhaps just punched Incognito in the face. Perhaps. Le Betard said that this man — a Stanford graduate — looked at his options and felt that his best option was to quit the football team and endure personal and national shame as a quitter. That shows how bad things got.
Should he have gone to the coaching staff with his complaints? Could he have stood up for himself?
Let’s take a look at both of those questions.
The Miami Dolphins don’t have team captains, but named a six-player “leadership team” before the season began. Incognito was one of the representatives on that leadership team. Another media report surfaced that the Miami coaches personally asked Incognito to “toughen up” Martin. If that’s the case, any complaint he had would have fallen on deaf ears. The coaches already had a perception that Martin was weak. Any complaints by him towards a player attempting to “toughen him up” would have been perceived the same way.
As for standing up for himself, I’m going to bring it back to that story I wrote last week, which mirrors a moment from my junior high years. I was bigger than the bully (in the story named Randy Weber — thankfully I don’t remember my bully’s name from junior high) and theoretically had no reason to fear him. But I did. Bullies have a way of inducing fear and logic is tossed out the window. On a Friday night in 7th grade, I was at the school with a couple hundred other kids at a dance/activity function. Randy was playing ball and was bullying me every chance I got. Finally, I did stick my foot out as he was running past me and he tripped, falling to the floor.
I didn’t know what to do next, but tried to stand up for myself. Unfortunately, that also included Randy punching me in the stomach.
And yes, I did have a friend who diffused the situation, but the bullying didn’t end that night. It continued through that entire school year and well into 8th grade as well. Just because you stand up once doesn’t mean it’ll stop. Not by any means. And bullies are really well versed in the art of deception and hiding (which is why I find Incognito’s name SO appropriate in this instance).
There was another time in junior high where a bully was trying to trip me from behind in the hallway. I tried to stop it by turning around quickly, swinging by backpack to hit him. The principal didn’t see the tripping, but did see by backpack swing. Guess who was disciplined?
I’m not in any way trying to compare junior high to a professional football team, but those people who think it’s so easy to just “stand up for yourself” or to go to the coach, don’t understand bullying. They don’t understand the fear that grips a person and the helplessness they feel. Even for a guy who stands 6’5″ and weighs 312 pounds — it isn’t always that easy.
Bullying is bullying, no matter what age. It doesn’t stop in junior high — it just takes on different forms.