Athletes and the Bullying Culture

By Cameron Docherty

Left: Richie Incognito, Right: Jonathan Martin; Photo Credit:

Left: Richie Incognito, Right: Jonathan Martin; Photo Credit:

Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you might know a thing or two about the bullying scandal revolving the National Football League Miami Dolphins Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. This is not an indictment of Richie Incognito, nor is it a reproach of Jonathan Martin.

For too long, this situation has been perceived to be a simple dichotomy between these teammates who have worked together, literally side by side on the offensive line of the Dolphins. Rather this is a situation that reverberates through every single player-coach or player-player relationship we see at any level of sport or competition.

The idea that there is a different culture behind the closed curtain of athletics or competition certainly raises a level of concern about the well being of those behind that curtain. Beyond the live HDTV nationally televised primetime broadcasts, the flashy uniforms and million dollar salaries, there are human beings out there living a life that we as non-professional athletes couldn’t fathom. But even below the professionals there are athletes striving to reach that pinnacle, giving 110% of their efforts to emulate the achievements of their clad heroes.

These people are subject to the very same factors that Incognito and Martin were subjected to, even if it’s not in a state-of-the-art sports facility. The perceived pressure and need for a team to win games fosters a unique bond within the members of that team. With any close-knit group you will have problems, disagreements, and of course opposing personalities clash. There is still much to be learned about the issue with Incognito and Martin, but there has been an over-riding theme of a certain “unwritten code” of how to conduct team affairs. As New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle told when asked about how Martin handled the situation, “You’re a grown ass man, you need to stand up for yourself,’ Rolle said.

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated interviewed a slew of NFL representatives, most of who spoke under anonymity. “I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person” one source said. “Guys are going to be guys, if you know what I mean. I’m sure there are some instances of taking things too far, but that happens everywhere. You handle it in house.”

So the consensus is that these guys are supposed to be impervious iron clad warriors without emotion. Martin was not supposed to be viscerally shook up by the instances of hazing and bullying he faced as a rookie, culminating in an alleged voicemail where Incognito directed horrific racial slurs and threats at Martin and his family.

What about athletes that are our age? What about the ones who attend the same classes as we do? Here in Newark, student athletes have shown extreme hesitancy on talking about the situation, and locker room culture at the college level. Many student athletes claimed they were not allowed to speak on the matter. One, who chose to speak under anonymity, said “It is really horrible what Jonathan Martin is dealing with right now. I have never really heard of any situations here at Rutgers-Newark even close to what’s happening in Miami.”

The reluctance of comment by student athletes here at Rutgers was strongly conflicted by the outspoken claims by one former student athlete at Rutgers New Brunswick.

Former Scarlet Knights football player Jevon Tyree and his family are seeking disciplinary action by the school against defensive coordinator Dave Cohen after “an outright bullying episode” caused Tyree to quit the team earlier this month, his family told Cohen allegedly got in Tyree’s face during a spring study hall session, threatening to head-butt him, also calling him a “pussy” and a “bitch”. This incident comes just 7 months after former Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for bullying his players in another national scandal.

So why does this happen? Why do we have professionals threatening each other? Why do we have adults threatening young adult student-athletes simply because they are a coach? Why does the need for a team to be successful take precedence over the well being of a human being?

There is some context here. The occupations of “NFL players” and “student-athletes” or just “students” are comparable. Obviously not in terms of monetary possessions, but in terms of pressure and stress.

The NFL is a league of players with a disproportionate tendencies to shoot themselves to death. Among recent high profile instances are former NFL icons Junior Seau shooting himself and former Chargers DB Paul Oliver shooting himself. Some of you may remember Jovan Belcher, the former Chiefs linebacker who shot himself in the Chiefs practice facility parking lot after murdering his girlfriend in front of his 3-month old daughter in December 2012.

 This sickening trend of suicide also rears itself among college students. According to the non-profit organization, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, and the number one cause of suicide for college student suicides (and all suicides) is untreated depression.” Unfortunately, the Rutgers student body has also had first hand experience with this. The suicide of Tyler Clementi, and  Lily Seegobin who attended here at Rutgers-Newark are recent notable instances. While they weren’t athletes they are cases worth acknowledging nonetheless, in the perspective of external pressure causing adverse reactions from seemingly okay situations.

It just doesn’t seem as though enough people keep these things in mind when observing the lives and situations of athletes from the outside. When people call Jonathan Martin a coward for seeking medical help for the bullying he was subjected to, they are neglecting the basic human element of compassion. What makes these athletes undeserving of your compassion? They’re warriors. As Brian Phillips of poetically sums it up, “If you have a penis and feelings, you’d better cut one of them off.”

This insatiable appetite for these warriors to wage war on each other without any semblance of awareness for the good emotional/physical health of your fellow human is the root of the issue here. From the grass roots level, coaches and athletes share very critical, influential relationships with each other. Based on the evidence of recent events, we have been working those relationships in a direction adverse to the point of athletics.

 We don’t have parks and recreation programs to prepare children for life in the pros. We don’t have pop warner football leagues to create superstars for our fantasy football line-ups. Sports are supposed to be fun, and somewhere along the way, we forgot that.


About rutgersobserver

The official student newspaper of Rutgers-Newark.
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