Bullying: It’s not ‘all in good fun’

Warning: This article contains offensive language essential to reporting the facts of the story.

Ted Wells’ investigation into the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal was released Friday. The report highlights workplace bullying and harassment in a comprehensive manner never before seen in the sports world, exposing just how damaging bullying can be. Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press.
Ted Wells’ investigation into the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal was released Friday. The report highlights workplace bullying and harassment in a comprehensive manner never before seen in the sports world, exposing just how damaging bullying can be. Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press.

On Valentine’s Day, independent investigative reporter Ted Wells released his report on the workplace misconduct of the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line. He was commissioned by the NFL league’s office midseason to look into the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal.

This is truly a landmark report not only for the NFL, but for individuals in any workplace where abuse or harassment is present.

The report is a comprehensive analysis of the complex nature of bullying and how it can manifest itself in very manipulative, complex patterns. I would strongly recommend anyone pursuing a position of workplace leadership to read the full report, which can be found online, as it is an enlightening diagnosis of the many facets of bullying.

To be sure, this past NFL season was filled with intriguing storylines on the field. The league reached new levels of parity with many preseason favorites, such as the Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons putting together miserable campaigns, as well as unexpected teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, making playoff runs.

And while we will still remember some of this season’s games years from now, like the magnificent snow game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions, the 2013 NFL season will likely be remembered for the issues that were brought up off of the gridiron, specifically the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal.

On Oct. 28, midway through the season, Jonathan Martin unexpectedly left the Dolphins’ facilities and checked himself into a hospital after teammate’s pranks and jokes became too much for the starting tackle to endure.

The next day, Martin informed the team that he would not be returning to the Dolphins’ team facility in the immediate future, citing the need to work through “mental health issues.”

In the aftermath, reports and publicized text messages between Martin and teammates led media to the conclusion that bullying and team misconduct had been the reason for Martin’s departure. However, no statement was ever made by Martin or Martin’s family regarding this speculation.

Richie Incognito, a Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Dolphins with a colorful past, began to be implicated in media reports as the source of Martin’s mental health issues, due to harassment. After ESPN published a recording of Incognito calling Martin a racial slur, national media attention exploded and Incognito was suspended from the team shortly after.

From that point on, investigator Wells and his team sifted through the thousands of text messages exchanged between Martin and his teammates. The team conducted over 100 interviews of players, coaches and managers to assemble a 140-page report on the events that led to Martin’s departure.

This report concludes that Incognito, along with fellow lineman John Jerry and Mike Pouncey and offensive line coach Jim Turner, engaged in serious and prolonged harassment of Jonathan Martin which eventually led to his mental health issues and eventual departure from the team.

The report stated that the group, led by Incognito, called Martin names like “liberal mulatto b—h,” “n—-r,” “half-n—-r piece of s–t,” “stinky Pakistani” and “darkness.” The group defended their racially charged name-calling by saying that players Pouncey is biracial and Jerry is black.

Incognito repeatedly spoke sexually about Martin’s mother and sister, describing intense sexual fantasies involving them to Martin.

In addition to this, Incognito fined Martin $10,000 in a book of fines he kept exclusively for the offensive line because of missing a trip to a Las Vegas strip club with the rest of the linemen.

After finding out about Martin’s reason for departing from the team, Incognito proceeded to fine Martin on five counts of being a “p—y,” according to the reports.

It is clear that Incognito and his accomplices engaged in serious and methodical workplace harassment that violated the team’s policy. The policy defines harassment as including “unwelcome contact; jokes, comments and antics; generalizations and put-downs.”

What is so impressive about Wells’ report, however, is how it engages the complexities of Martin’s relationship with Incognito. Martin was considered by Incognito to be one of his closer friends, and Martin himself often engaged in the same types of activity that he was subjected to, directing it toward other members of the team.

However, Wells notes that this is behavior that is consistent with that of individuals who are being bullied. Oftentimes, in efforts to “fit in” or direct attention elsewhere, individuals who are bullied will participate in the bullying of others in attempt to form a relationship with the bullying group.

That being said, Martin himself described his relationship with Incognito as being “bipolar,” not in the medical sense, but in the sense that one minute they would be best friends, and the next Incognito would be ostracizing and harassing Martin.

In fact, immediately following Martin’s departure from the team facilities, Incognito reached out many times via text message citing how much he missed and cared for Martin.

“All that’s important is that you feel better and know we miss u dude,” one text message from Incognito read.
Martin even told Incognito that he didn’t blame Incognito or the rest of the team for what had happened.

So, while Wells clearly depicted Incognito’s bullying tactics and his violation of team harassment policy, he also recognized the complex nature of Martin’s relationship with Incognito.

This attention to the nuance and intricacies of bullying is what makes this case such a landmark. It will serve as a springboard for bullying conversations across the league and across the nation.

It’s not as simple as pawning off workplace teasing as being “all in good fun” anymore.

Thanks to Wells and his investigative team, we now have a place for serious informed discussion of bullying in the sports world and in the general workplace.

As an engaged man who will be graduating and getting married in May, while I apply for jobs and start thinking about my future family, I’m grateful to Martin for being open enough to allow the world into his bullying case. With his frankness and Wells’ thorough investigation, we can hope that awareness and discussion will begin to shape the culture of not only NFL locker rooms, but also elementary school classrooms and middle school locker rooms.

And while it may be easy to point at Incognito as a monster, we might also learn that, like the rest of the Dolphins players who stood by and watched, we might also be on the sidelines of bullying in our workplace that hides under the guise of good-natured teasing.

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