News broke last week that Jonathan Martin, a starting offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, had left the team because of emotional issues from bullying by teammates. This was a surprise to many people because Martin is a key part of the Miami Dolphins team, and grown men aren’t expected to bully others, especially in a league as prestigious as the NFL. The NFL is not middle school, and there is no excuse for players getting bullied off the team. It’s bad enough to get bullied at all, but in a professional workplace where grown men are getting paid millions of dollars, this is inexcusable.
Martin was drafted in the second round by the Dolphins in 2012. He is a 6-foot-6, 320-pound player of biracial descent who attended Stanford University. Martin went AWOL last week after a cafeteria prank by his teammates. He went to go sit with teammates at a table and, as soon as he sat down, everyone else got up and left. This appeared to be the last straw for Martin as he then threw his food tray on the ground and stormed out of the team facility.
A few days later, it was confirmed that Richie Incognito was a suspected bully. Voicemails and text messages to Martin began to leak out. Some of the messages contained racial slurs and other despicable threats. This was a voicemail from Incognito to Martin from April 2013:
“Hey, wassup, you half n***** piece of s***. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s*** in your f****** mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f****** mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F*** you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
It appears the NFL has a major hazing problem too. It is obvious that one reason Martin was targeted by teammates is because he was a rookie. Rookies are forced to do many things for veterans and have no choice in the matter. Dolphin rookies were handed the tab for a $30,000 team dinner. Some players have contacted the Miami Herald saying they are on their way to going broke because they cannot say no to veterans.
Incognito has had a very troubling past. He was suspended from both Nebraska and Oregon football teams and has assault charges from college. Incognito was voted the dirtiest player in the NFL in a 2009 vote by his peers in the Sporting News. He was released by the Rams in 2009 after an argument with his head coach.
Every team he has ever played on has either suspended him or cut ties. Notably, Richie Incognito was bullied himself as a child.
There are many people to blame for this situation. One is head coach Joe Philbin. Philbin is a second-year head coach, and it appears he turned a blind eye to what happens in the locker room. The Dolphins named a six-person leadership council, and Incognito was on it. One of his responsibilities was to carry team issues up to the council. Martin never went to coaches and team leaders about the problems. He must have found it embarrassing to go up to other players in a professional and “tough guy” environment.
There are very few of us to the walk this world without getting bullied. It’s a terrible feeling to not feel accepted and get ganged up on by our peers. The culture of the NFL needs to change because there is no need for bullying in any context.