November 11th, 2013
Pioneer Press: NFL case proves, again, there’s no simple solution to bullying
By Ruben Rosario, St. Paul, MN Pioneer Press, Nov. 10, 2013
My first visceral reaction when I learned of the bullying story involving Miami Dolphins football offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito was how a physically imposing athlete such as Martin, at 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, did not go after Incognito or let himself be bullied.
If it were me, I thought to myself, it would not matter that Incognito was a veteran and also a huge man (6-foot-3, 319 pounds) and could bench-press an astonishing 600 pounds. I would have hit him hard in the two most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the male anatomy, locations that don’t benefit at all from weightlifting.
And then I realized that I was subconsciously siding with those fellow players that seem to be partly blaming Martin for his own victimization and opposing suggestions that Incognito should be castigated or banned from pro football for hazing and browbeating gone a little extreme.
“I think if you have a problem with somebody — a legitimate problem with somebody — you should say, ‘I have a problem with this,’ and stand up and be a man,” Dolphins offensive tackle Tyson Clabo told reporters last week. “I don’t think what happened is necessary. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”
Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins for conduct detrimental to the team after people representing Martin released a voice-mail recording. In the recording, mind you, Incognito referred to Martin as a “half n—– piece of s—,” and added, “F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.” It also was learned that team coaches tapped Incognito, a veteran, to “toughen” up Martin, a second-year player, more than a year ago.
Martin left the team Oct. 28 and reportedly checked into a hospital briefly to deal with emotional distress.
MARTIN ‘COURAGEOUS’ TO WALK AWAY
Gary Namie is not surprised at all that Martin — a modern-day gladiator playing one of the most macho, violent and physically demanding games — is another casualty of the “blame the victim” mentality found in the company cafeteria as well as the football locker room. The do-nothing witnesses, as Namie terms those coaches or players or co-workers who either know what is going on or are complicit in keeping things quiet, may be the reason why Martin felt he could not rely on the team to stop the bullying.
“He’s actually a courageous man,” said Namie, founder and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Seattle. Namie added that Martin’s demeanor and background — a soft-spoken, intelligent man who graduated from Stanford University and was raised by two Harvard-educated lawyer parents — explains why he chose to walk away and not retaliate as well as why he may have been targeted.
“He walked away from millions of dollars, from everything that he aimed for when he was playing in Pop Warner,” Namie said. “Whether out of fear of retaliation, or that he understands that violence begets violence, he chose to do it this way because he’s cut from a different cloth. That’s admirable, and by doing that, he also exposed the bullying that goes on inside locker rooms.”
Although the Martin-Incognito situation still is unfolding, it underscores the reality that bullying is as much a problem in the workplace as it is in the school yards and street corners of the world. As John Mack, a veteran Twin Cities-based lawyer who investigates employer and employee misconduct, notes in a 2005 Bench and Bar of Minnesota magazine article on the issue: “Playground bullies grow up. They leave behind the broken toys and bloodied noses of the sandlot in exchange for the broken pencils and bruised egos of the office.”
Mack also notes that the NFL long knew of Incognito’s bullish and anger-management blowups with other teams but overlooked the bad behavior because Incognito was a producer on the field, “like a top executive or salesperson you don’t want to lose.”
One glaring example of this was the disclosure that Incognito allegedly harassed a 34-year-old African-American female volunteer at a team charity golf tournament last year. According to a police report, Incognito touched her privates with a golf club, grinded her from behind, and then emptied a water bottle on her face. The woman, citing a confidentiality agreement she signed, declined to comment publicly on the incident.
Recent studies and surveys conducted or commissioned by Namie’s 16-year-old institute shed light on pervasive workplace bullying.
Among the findings:
- 35 percent of the U.S. workforce (an estimated. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work.
- An additional 15 percent witness it.
- 62 percent of bullies are men; 58 percent of targets are women.
- Female bullies target women in 80 percent of cases.
- Most bullying (68 percent) is same-gender harassment.
Other statistics illuminate the adverse impact and consequences that bullying has on a workplace victim. Another study by Namie’s institute last year found that 77 percent of bullying victims lose their jobs through various means. Roughly 28 percent quit. Another 25 percent are terminated, and nearly 25 percent, such as Martin, are what Namie describes as constructive discharges — workers who walk away for awhile, if not permanently.
Of those who identified themselves as bullying victims in another study, about 80 percent reported experiencing intense anxiety, 49 percent were diagnosed with clinical depression and 30 percent were told they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
REMEDIES AN ‘UPHILL BATTLE’
Namie is pushing for “healthy workplace” legislation that will protect victims of same gender or race bullying not covered by existing workplace discrimination or harassment laws or policies. Since 2003, 25 states, including Minnesota, have introduced such bills; none has become law.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” said Namie. “But we’ve had bipartisan support in the reddest and bluest of states.”
Still, numerous players have spoken out publicly in support of Martin’s actions.
“I would say that I’m extremely disappointed in the reaction that I think has been generated from this entire event,” said Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, a former teammate of Martin at Stanford. “I don’t know the specifics of what happened, so I don’t want to speculate. But, at the same time, we saw the voice mails, the text messages; for anybody to say that you can’t handle it, that you’re soft because you can’t handle it, that’s ridiculous to me and it’s disappointing that our society even has to question that. It’s pathetic to me, actually.”
Namie said, sadly, that it would be “even money” on which player might return to pro football more quickly. He believes teams may not want Martin because of the flap and may privately want Incognito but won’t because such a hire would be a public relations nightmare.
Martin’s a braver man than me. I would still go for the privates or the throat, given that culture, and then ask for forgiveness. But I wonder how many of those players criticizing Martin’s decision are some of the same ones who make the sign of the cross after winning in homage to a man who turned the other cheek and did not retaliate against his persecutors.
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