Reading the ongoing coverage of the scandal in the Miami Dolphins locker room, I find myself struggling to maintain a politically correct attitude. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, you really need to read the papers more. But here's what happened:
Last October, Jonathan Martin, an offensive tackle for the Dolphins, abruptly left the team, claiming that ongoing taunting by his teammates, chief among them Richie Incognito, had become intolerable. Incognito was subsequently suspended indefinitely from the team, and, when Martin's accusations went public, a spate of handwringing about the bullying, homophobic culture in NFL locker rooms ensued. Yesterday, a report commissioned by the NFL described the situation as a "classic case of bullying."
Now, let me stipulate: From everything I have read and seen, it seems Richie Incognito is a class-A schmuck, an asshole of epic proportions, and someone who could benefit from nothing so much as a swift punch to the face. That being said, am I alone in wishing that, rather than leaving the team, Jonathan Martin had administered said swift punch?
And while Incognito and others certainly are bullies, I'm not completely convinced that Martin was bullied. Because, look: What do people say to bullies when trying to get them to change their obnoxious ways: "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" Well, when it comes to Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, that is exactly what Incognito did! Jonathan Martin, for all his apparent sensitivity, was hardly defenseless: He was no 98-pound weakling--much less a place-kicker! He was, in fact, quite literally the same size as his tormentor: 6'5" and 312 pounds, compared to Incognito's 6'3 and 319. If Martin had, in response to Incognito's torments, reared back and clocked Incognito, does anyone doubt that the bullying would very likely have stopped? Moreover, the bullying of other people in the locker room, including an assistant trainer who was certainly less able to defend himself than Martin, might have diminished as well.
Should someone have to put up with incessant taunting at one's workplace? No. But Jonathan Martin chose to accept a generous salary to play a sport that is inherently violent and filled with players not exactly known for their emotional maturity. I don't excuse Richie Incognito's behavior, and I think it would be great if NFL locker rooms were less hostile places to work. But in addition to sensitivity training for the more Neanderthal members of the NFL family, a great way for the culture to change would be for everybody to remember the standard advice--or at least what used to be the standard advice--about dealing with bullies: If you stand up to a bully, he will often back down.
And if Michael Sam--the NFL prospect who just came out as gay--finds himself in a locker room with Richie Incognito, is there anyone who thinks Sam will back down or leave the team in the face of homophobic taunts?