Schoolchildren learn that bullying is not okay at an early age. It causes emotional harm to the person being bullied and usually ends up getting the bully into hot water with authority figures.
Maybe these grown NFL players in testosterone overdrive need to go back to grade school. The kerfuffle between Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, a rookie offensive lineman for the Dolphins allegedly caused Martin to leave the team and seek help for emotional distress and harassment. Martin claims Incognito and other Dolphins players harassed he and other rookies and that Incognito frequently called him the N-word. Incognito tells a different story. He claims he and Martin are friends who often engage in harmless banter. The racial slurs, he said, went both ways.
The former athletes and coaches turned TV commentators expressed starkly different opinions on the matter Sunday. Some dismissed it as standard practice in NFL locker rooms. It’s a rite of passage all rookies endure, said one.
Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe went hammer bammer on Incognito for his use of the N-word. (See attached video). Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka said he wouldn’t want Incognito or Martin on his team. He went on to say that Martin should have punched Incognito instead of being a baby about it. Really, Ditka? That says a lot about your character. It is precisely this attitude that keeps most people from reporting inappropriate behavior. Ditka seems to be blaming the victim and saying, “Man up dude.”
Commentator and former player Cris Carter’s comments were smart and thought-provoking. When NFL players enter the locker room, he said, they are entering their workplace. All workplaces have anti-harassment policies. Why should NFL players be exempt?
League officials are trying to sort through what happened. They are questioning players, coaches and other staff members.
The men who play professional sports are often considered role models for young people. This is another reason why we should rethink the people we put on pedestals. In a league that has much more serious issues to deal with, like concussions, this behavior is an embarrassment. These are grown men who get paid a lot of money to perform on the playing field. Their coaches need to shut this nonsense down. Hand down some stiff fines and this behavior will stop. It’s one thing to engage in harmless banter in the locker room. It’s another matter entirely when the harassment becomes so unbearable that a player has to seek therapy.