Bullying is Always Wrong, in the NFL on the Internet or Anywhere Else

I abhor bullying in all its forms. I have since I was in my teens.

I was bullied was a kid, and I sometimes engaged in bullying back then, too. I am equally sorry for both. There was/is nothing redeeming about being on either end of it. Nothing. It’s wrong for kids to do it, and they should be taught to act better than that,  but they’re not supposed to know better.  When adults engage in it, encourage it, praise it, or even tolerate it, it’s simply inexcusable. I don’t care if you’re  12, 22 or even 57; bullying is never a way to solve any problem, whether one person is doing it, ir it’s coordinated by a large group. It doesn’t solve problems, it creates more. It doesn’t make you “a man” or “a woman” – in fact, it makes you childish and petty. And it doesn’t matter who “started” it, and you can’t use retaliation as your rationale for getting away with it. If someone else is doing it, we all have to strive to be the one to end it. We all have to realize that ending bullying begins with ME.

In recent years, the concept of bullying has taken on a life if its own, in part because the relatively easy “anonymity” of the Internet, and the prevalence of social networking, gives cowards the cover to do pretty much whatever they want to others without repercussions. Some folks have no problem operating under their own name and personality one way and using another persona to attack others. Others incorporate it into their online persona, and others too often treat it as “charming,” and tolerate it as if it was no big deal.

But it is a big deal, and it needs to stop. Bullies aren’t brave and assertive, they’re cowardly. Talk back to them if you can. If you can’t call whoever’s in charge and make them deal with it. If the harassment is bad enough, call the police. Most bullies, when confronted by an unwilling participant, will cower in the face of resistance. It’s really amazing how many big, brave men turn into little pussy cats when someone actually confronts them on their bullying, although they often get other people to do their dirty work for them, or become more underhanded in their bullying methodology.

While our culture used to accept bullying as a matter of course, we have to outgrow such a thing at some point, in order to evolve as a culture. And what better time is there to do that than right now?

An alarming number of people are afraid to use their real name in public; are afraid to go to work or school; afraid to walk the streets; afraid to say something controversial; afraid to disagree with some people. How free are people, if they’re afraid to dress the way they want, or to be black, brown or gay? How free are people when they’re afraid to be whomever they want to be? How free are they when bullies threaten their lives and livelihoods? Haven’t we had enough of suicide by bullying?

There is a truly disturbing story unfolding in Miami right now, and it involves NFL players that our children and others look up to as role models. Now, you can argue whether or not football players should be seen as role models, but the fact of the matter is, they are. Because of this, and the fact that whole communities support them with stadiums and a lot of money, professional athletes should be held to a higher standards than most other professions. And apparently, they’re not.

If you haven’t heard, Richie Incognito (who really might want to live up to his name from here on) was suspended by the Miami Dolphins last night, although it happened to late. This guy was a bully. You could make a case that he was far more than that, and frankly, I think a case could be made that he’s a criminal. This guy should spell the end of bullying in the NFL, as well as the beginning of the end of tolerance of bullying in our culture. Incognito is quite possibly the worst workplace bully I have ever heard of that didn’t end with a murder, at least not yet.

Show of hands; if you had sent threatening text messages to a fellow worker, and followed them up with voice mail threats? What if you screamed racial epithets to fellow workers and promised to kill them?  How many of you imagine you’d get to keep your job, let alone stay out of jail? For that matter, how many of you would consider the above just a little bit of “hazing”?

Incognito was doing all of the above to teammate, second-year player, Jonathan Martin, and the coaching staff and management apparently refused to do anything about it until Martin walked off the job. Seriously; MARTIN had to walk off the job (and quite possibly discussed legal action against the Dolphins and the NFL) before the coaching staff decided, well, you know; maybe we’d better look into this.

The strangest aspect of this issue has to be the fact that the team and the league have been trying to clean up the league’s image for years, but they don’t seem to have noticed this. Two years ago, they found out that the New Orleans Saints had been putting bounties on players from other teams, and they suspended a bunch of players and coaches in return. This time, Martin’s decision to abandon his contract rather than put up with Incognito’s abuse ended up dominating last Sunday’s pre-game shows and forced the team’s and the league’s hand. Within 24 hours, everyone who follows the NFL knew about Incognito’s disgusting activities. How did coaches and team executives not know this?

In addition to extremely abusive text messages and voice mails, some details of which can be found here, there were also instances in which Incognito made Martin and other teammates pay large amounts to money for meals, trips and other things.

Though Coach Joe Philbin and others in the Dolphins organization claim they had no idea, and that Martin never told them anything about what was going on. But how secret could this be, really? For half the year, the coaches are around these players constantly, and watching them interact. In order to coach an NFL football team, you have to be able to deal with all of your players. And it’s not like Incognito didn’t come with baggage. When he was at Nebraska, he was suspended for some off-field shenanigans. He was one of the most-penalized offensive linemen in the league while he played with the St. Louis Rams for four years, including a number of times for penalties other than holding, which is common for offensive linemen. When new head coach Steve Spagnuolo came in, Incognito refused to listen to him, and got into a screaming match, earning him waivers. He has also received a number of fines and warnings by the NFL, and has been under suspension threat for a while.  Not only that, but players repeatedly vote him one of the dirtiest players in the league.

So, how can anyone, inside or outside the Dolphins organization, claim they had no idea any of this was going on? Just as importantly, why do they think it would be okay if they didn’t know, except that such behavior is basically okay, and part of the league culture? The NFL is a workplace, however; there are rules and regulations in place to protect workers in other workplaces from bullies. Why would the NFL think it was somehow exempt? And why didn’t  the other “workers” at NFL “jobsites”? Why didn’t any of them speak up?

And when are we, as a culture, going to say “enough!” when it comes to bullying? It’s well past time to stop it. Right now, a very large football player is afraid of retaliation from another large football player, and that simply shouldn’t be the case. We can no longer tolerate that. It’s time we all did our part to stop it. Whether it’s someone threatening to publish someone’s address, phone number or employer on a social network or blog because he or she doesn’t like what you say or write, or it’s someone making an unfounded accusation against someone in any forum, or it’s someone making personal attacks against someone’s family, or it’s someone making bigoted remarks or accusations based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation or any other arbitrary factor, or even physically threatening another for any reason, it’s not okay.

It’s time for a movement. Bullying has to be over. Bullies have to be stopped.

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