Gil LeBreton

February 15, 2014

Martin case shows NFL teams need to grow up

There’s no excuse for bullying, even in the NFL.

Though he was 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds, Jonathan Martin was crying for help.

He felt that he couldn’t turn to his employer, the Miami Dolphins, because he didn’t want to be labeled a Judas.

His own father, a graduate of Harvard, told Martin to just tell the bullying perpetrator to kiss his rear end.

Finally, last Oct. 28 in the middle of the NFL season, Martin, 24, walked away from it all, a fearful and beaten man.

Whereupon teammate Richie Incognito docked himself a mock $200 fine in the offensive line’s kangaroo court notebook and penciled in the notation, “breaking Jmart.”

It was all a joke, Incognito would explain later. Boys being boys. An NFL locker room, they say, is a juvenile tree house of crude sexual taunts and racial slurs.

Even the NFL’s 144-page report, released Friday by respected attorney Ted Wells, acknowledged that.

“We ... understand that context matters,” read Wells’ report. “We accept that the communications of young, brash, highly competitive football players often are vulgar and aggressive.

“For better or worse, profanity is an accepted fact of life in competitive sports, and professional athletes commonly indulge in conduct inappropriate in other social settings.”

But at the same time, as Wells wrote, “Limits should exist.”

We didn’t need 144 pages of the report to prove to us that Incognito is a creep, full of himself and, quite possibly, testosterone and steroids. The YouTube video that TMZ showed right after the Martin story broke paints Incognito for the vile loose cannon that he is.

The 144 pages contain text messages, emails from Martin to his family, and their transcript is both unsettling and, at times, painful to read.

The idea that someone would verbally and emotionally bully a co-worker so fiercely and relentlessly defies a real world comparison. There isn’t a workplace in America that would want Richie Incognito on its premises.

Many may wonder, however, how a 6-5, 312-pound adult, a graduate of Stanford, can be bullied.

But that’s the sinister aspect of bullying. A person shouldn’t have to accept confrontation as a way of resolving problems. Not everyone is raised to raise their fists and voices.

As the report said, “The treatment of Martin and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit. A young football player who has the skills to play at the highest level, and who also happens to be quiet and reserved, should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment from his teammates.”

Wells admits that it’s regrettable that Martin didn’t go to the Dolphins’ front office when the bullying first emerged. But a bully, whether he’s in a locker room or on a school playground, succeeds in bullying because bystanders don’t want to get involved.

Indeed, then-Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland told Martin’s attorney that he should have confronted Incognito with “fisticuffs.” And after he left the team, Martin was badgered by offensive line coach Jim Turner to “do the right thing” and exonerate his teammates.

Wells’ task was to investigate and report on his findings. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell likely will issue appropriate suspensions. Incognito, soon to be a free agent, is in for a long and possibly career-ending vacation.

Goodell is all about messages, and there’s a profound one to deliver in the Jonathan Martin bullying case. The juvenile culture inside of NFL locker rooms must change. What if Missouri’s Michael Sam, who recently announced he was gay, had been drafted by the Dolphins?

They didn’t hear Jonathan Martin crying. Maybe now the entire NFL will.

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