Bullying in the locker-room is a real problem in the NFL


By Nicole Skripkariuk
Ryersonian Staff

Admittedly, I don’t follow sports. But there is one story that recently demanded my attention: the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal.

Racial slurs. Homophobic rants. Death threats. These are just some of the examples of harassment 24-year-old Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin allegedly endured from teammate Richie Incognito.

Three weeks ago, Martin briefly checked himself into a South Florida hospital to be treated for emotional distress. Thirty-year-old left guard Incognito was suspended from the team after Martin’s representatives provided voice mail and text evidence that the team deemed inappropriate. Here’s a sample:

Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] shit in your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.

The scandal is a reminder of the pervasiveness of bullying in sports. The definition of manhood and the hyper-masculinity that happens in the locker-room is having a damaging impact on the sport’s integrity. This warrior culture manifests itself in bullying, physical and emotional harassment. It is no way to play the game.

But, according to some members of the sports community, being “soft” is equally as harmful as using racist and homophobic slurs. Since Incognito’s suspension, Giants safety Antrel Rolle spoke out and said that Martin is “just as much to blame” in the situation. He also said Martin is “a grown-ass man” and needs to “stand up for himself.”

Ex-Dolphins offensive tackle Lydon Murtha said that “playing football is a man’s job” and he “broke the code” by taking this to the press. Amidst the victim blaming is a clear message to Martin: Man up!

Conversations sparked by the scandal are a mixed bag of intellectual discourse and vulgar insults. I salvaged arguably one of the most compelling, well-written columns I’ve read on the subject: Brian Phillips’ Grantland column “Man up.” In the words of Phillips, “If you have a penis and feelings, you’d better cut one of them off. I’m here to start a fight. This idea that Jonathan Martin is a weakling for seeking emotional help — this is some room-temperature faux-macho alpha-pansy nonsense.”

Amen. The notion that a man is weak for seeking emotional help is a load of macho bravado bullshit. The last time I checked, it takes physical and mental prowess to succeed in the game. This male warrior archetype valuing combativeness and aggression in assuring one’s status doesn’t hold up on the field if you don’t have the emotional integrity and mental strength to back it up.

The assertion that Martin violated some all-encompassing “bro code” is juvenile and, frankly, tiresome.

Social hierarchies generate complicit followers. Expecting a rookie to confront a veteran player at the risk of ostracizing himself from the team is a tall order. Organizations must quash the dated fallacy “boys will be boys.” Leagues should practise respectful methods of communication and instigate a zero tolerance policy. Currently, there is no anti-hazing policy in the NFL.

The best athletes hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct and performance. That’s what separates the boys from the men and the players from the champions. Collectively, we need to alter our distorted perception of what it means to “man up.” Otherwise, we will continue to reinforce a culture of character bashing, rather than character building.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 20, 2013.

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