Plenty can be said about the alleged locker room harassment that prompted a Miami Dolphins offensive lineman to pick up and leave the team in mid-season.
But nothing that can be said about it is more important than this:
If a 300-pound lineman can be bullied so badly that he gives up, then no one should be ashamed of being a victim.
The case of Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin, the alleged victim, also presents us with an important lesson: that bullying must be taken seriously by others in power, no matter the age of the people involved, or how big the recipient of the abuse is.
Miami swiftly and unceremoniously suspended the alleged offender, fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito, for conduct detrimental to the team after Martin abruptly and mysteriously left last week.
Since Martin’s exit, allegations have surfaced that Incognito harassed Martin mercilessly and, at least once, racially. Reports also indicate Incognito had a problem with such behavior as early as his freshman year at the University of Nebraska. USA Today reports he made a teammate walk out there, as well.
Reports now indicate the Dolphins may have some culpability as well: Two sources say the coaching staff may have instructed Incognito to “toughen up” Martin.
That accusation was being compared by some to the “code red” harassment of a Marine by his peers in the movie A Few Good Men. If true, the coaching staff has some questions to answer. Harassment and abuse are no way to toughen anyone up, even in the smash-mouth National Football League.
The culture of the NFL, and sports in general, has come into question in the past week because of this incident. The unpleasant truth is that hazing, harassment and bullying can occur at every level, from elementary school to professional teams.
While horseplay will ever be with us, and having to pay one’s dues as a rookie or new recruit is a time-honored rite of passage – usually done in a most lighthearted manner – there’s a difference between testing a man’s moxie and outright abuse.
We hope the NFL and its players association continue to take this matter seriously. There’s horsing around and then there’s thuggish torment.
If these allegations are true, then you have to wonder why any team would employ Incognito again.
On the bright side, the episode could be a godsend to abuse victims of all sizes and ages. It’s a reminder that persecution is persecution, and that no one has a right to do it to anyone else.
It also should serve as a ray of hope to anyone else going through it. Again, if an NFL player can be bullied to the point of desperation, there’s utterly no shame for any other victim.