November 4th, 2013

Workplace bullying in the NFL, a violent industry

American professional football is now recognized as a violent game, not only by critics, but by its own admission. The NFL (the team owners) settled a huge lawsuit for players who suffered concussions and committed funds to researching the effects of the sport on retired players’ health. The fact that retired players chose to die by suicide, a decision driven in large part by the brain damage they suffered, speaks volumes about the sport.

Players privileged to play at the professional level have groomed their playing skills from childhood through high school and college and endured years of boys’ locker room antics where social skills are honed. It’s possibly the most masculine, aggressive environment of all workplaces (military as an equal). Do we expect respect to be part of that cutthroat competitive environment?

The players union (NFLPA) speaks of it:

The NFLPA believes that management has an obligation to ensure a safe and professional workplace

Turns out the Miami Dolphins organization does, too:

we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another

Into this arena comes a 6’5″ 312 lbs. 2nd year offensive lineman drafted from Stanford, Jonathan Martin. During his year and one-half with the Dolphins, he reported that he has been subjected to an abusive work environment. He named veteran lineman Richie Incognito and a specific incident of financial extortion for $15,000 by Incognito. Martin’s salary is $1.087 million while Incognito’s is $5.4 million.

Bullying reared its ugly head in the NFL as Martin left the team. With so many eyes on the NFL a departure for mysterious reasons could not go unnoticed. Martin went public on Facebook. Many of his teammates said what Martin endured was “normal stuff.” Martin had been dubbed “Big Weirdo” by teammates.

Was Martin the victim of harmless pranks? Routine hazing? No such thing. Even the military is committed to eliminating hazing because of the dangers it poses. Some of Martin’s teammates discounted the intimidation he faced by saying “Stuff happens in the family, and it’s not always great and we have to deal with it.”

One day in the dining hall, Martin hit his limit. The taunting finally got to him. We don’t know yet if he kept this all a secret from his family or from his non-football friends. Imagine the personal shame in this very macho context. But abuse is abuse and he had had enough.

On Monday Oct. 28, Martin left the team on paid leave. The team put him on the “non-football injury list,” claiming he was dealing with “emotional issues” and was suffering an “illness.” This employer’s initial portrayal made it sound like Martin was to blame and acting whiny.

The players union specifically said it was NOT conducting an investigation. The NFLPA said: “We have an obligation to protect and support all of our members,” the statement said. “We take official investigations very seriously and in this case, we have not launched an investigation into Richie Incognito or other players in Miami.”

Sadly, this matches what many bullied targets experience when they ask their union to help. It seems the member-on-member bullying paralyzes union leaders. They forget unions are to support workers when they cannot help themselves.

We fully expected this to end with blaming Martin and ending his career as happens with 77% of all bullied targets.

But early today (Monday Nov. 4) the tide changed. Late Sunday night Nov. 3, the Dolphins suspended Incognito.

The Miami Dolphins have suspended (indefinitely) Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another, as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time.

As visitors of this website know so well, most bullying is covert. Bullies hide their torment extremely well. That’s why targets are not believed, given the often outrageous over-the-top nature of the misconduct.

Incognito shared his racist, hate-filled view of Martin in social media and by texting and by voicemail.

Maybe this will be the rarest of rare outcomes — a bully is brought down and loses his job.

Stay tuned! Follow the full story in the Category list in the sidebar: NFL: Jonathan Martin


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This entry was posted on Monday, November 4th, 2013 at 2:12 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, NFL: Jonathan Martin, The New America, Unions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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