While the social concept of “bullying” has been a hot topic in the US in recent years, the allegations surrounding the Jonathan Martin/Miami Dolphins case has made a lot of us take pause. For those of you who haven’t heard the news, Jonathan Martin, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, has left the team after being (allegedly) repeatedly harassed, bullied, and potentially financially exploited by certain teammates including one specifically Richie Incognito. While at this point these are only allegations, and we need to be careful to not go convicting anyone before all the facts have come out, the nature of this situation is one that should open the eyes of much of America that doesn’t seem to fully grasp the seriousness of the “Bullying” problem we have in society today. Jonathan Martin is not a small, weak or seemingly easy target of an individual. He stands 6’5′, weighs more than 320lbs, and is regarded as one of the top young offensive lineman in the NFL. By anyone’s standards, he is probably one of the last people you’d expect to be “bullied”, but that’s just what makes this entire situation so fascinating.
We typically think of big kids bullying the little kids, and it is for this reason that quite often too many people turn their heads and a blind eye. “It’s just a part of life that everyone outgrows”, “It’s going to make them stronger”, “It’s really not that big of a deal”. These are all excuses I hear on a regular basis when people easily dismiss cases of bullying or the effects that they have on individuals. While I can agree that, at times, these issues are overblown and that yes for some people being pushed around a bit can teach you how to stiffen up, ultimately the idea of just ignoring the impact of bullying and harassment is ludicrous. Jonathan Martin is a grown man, even though he is only 24, he is no child. For a grown man, in a violent sport like football, amongst a league of tough as nails grown men, to need to remove himself from the team says enough to me about the severity of the situation. Whether the allegations are true or not is not the point, the fact that Martin felt the need to leave the team, and had the balls to follow through on it, speaks to how
distraught he must have been feeling. I do believe it took balls for him to leave the team, because my first reaction was, “fuck, even if he’s dead on accurate with his allegations, to serve as a public “whistle-blower” on his teammates, he may never be accepted back in a locker room again.” That’s a sad thought, but it’s true. These things are normally policed within the locker room, and going public (even if it’s only because the sports media forcefully uncovered the details), is never well received. However, Martin must have been so distraught that he was willing to sacrifice his standing on the team and his career, in order to relieve himself of this stress. Which brings up another interesting point, how sad is it that admitting to being bullied could actually contribute to his being even less accepted in the locker room?
Let me quickly touch on another situation that occurred over this past weekend. Recently a story went viral when a girl, 22 year old Alicia Ann Lynch insensitively dressed as a “Boston Marathon Victim,” for Halloween. The absolutely insensitive, ignorant, and distasteful costume, which Lynch photographed and publicized on her social media channels, has exactly zero defense. Let me repeat, there is no defending it at all. Lynch shamed herself, lost her job, and became a public pariah; all of which I can live with as her punishment for making light of such a horrific event. However, over the past few days, since the digital media got hold of the story, Lynch (and her entire family) have become the targets of a massive social attack that includes multiple threats of abuse, death and even rape. While what Lynch did was stupid and maybe even a bit demented, under no circumstance do I think she deserves multiple threats on her and her families life. She made a mistake, a massive one at that, but the public, through the seemingly anonymous voice of social media, reacted in a way that goes far beyond a punishment befitting the crime. However, that is how we’ve become as a society it seems, ready and willing at any moment to play the role of the judge, jury and executioner – but rarely the teacher, the parent, the protector.
Over the course of recent years we’ve seen more people than we’d like to admit, (kids, teens, and adults alike) feel so beaten down that they resort to taking their own lives. While in some instances the bullies are so evil that they’ve even taken pride in their actions after the fact, quite often, I truly believe that they are less aware of the impact that their actions have. Especially in a time where social media and technology in general seemingly dehumanizes every interaction, I just don’t think people have an emotional connection to their actions. What if Alicia Ann Lynch actually was raped or killed, or became so fearful and rejected that she took her own life? Don’t you think the same public who attacked her would hold the same level of harmonious remorse for their actions? The problem with bullying today, at least I believe, comes down to 3 main situational issues.
Firstly, we live in a tremendously competitive society whereby everything is, whether you like it or not, some form of competition. You’re competing to get into a better school, to get a better job, to get a better mate, to get more money, to look better, to just have a better life. And better is an arbitrary term that can never really be satisfied. So many of us just compete, both with others and ourselves, to constantly be in some sense, better than we are. Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think it’s actually one of the reasons that the United States is a great place and for the most part is a land where if you work hard you CAN achieve. However, this competitive nature is being bred into a class of highly entitled children that I don’t believe are consistently channelling this attribute in the right direction.
Which brings me to my second condition, the role that parents play in society today. More than ever, parents seem disconnected from their children. They work hard to provide everything they can for them, but at the same time have lost a lot of that precious commodity that is time spent actually raising and getting to know their children. Following your kid on Facebook isn’t actually being connected to them. It’s not the same as having dinner with them, driving them to school, or just generally being involved in their lives. I’m not even going as far as to blame parents today, it’s not their fault that life is just expensive – and also that they too are allowed to have personal ambitions that in order to achieve them take them away from the home. However, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that more and more parents are just not as connected with their children as was true with previous generations. With this in mind, kids aren’t getting that same instilling of certain values and behaviors that I think previous generations received.
The last condition has been the effect of technology on the dehumanizing of relationships. We joke about social media being how we keep up with our friends, but it’s kind of true. If it weren’t for our various feeds, how would we know when people are upset, happy, in the midst of tragedy or celebration. We don’t talk on the phone anymore, or really connect on personal levels… consistently anymore. We tweet, and text, and share things through technological tools that shorten and depersonalize the message. When we do interact in a group, many of us are more concerned with how it’ll look on instagram than what it actually looks like in the moment. This slow depersonalizing of relationships, I believe makes it easier for people to know really understand the impact of their actions because they aren’t really emotionally connected with anyone anymore.
Bullying is, as sad as it is for me to admit, becoming a real problem in this country. I have to admit, a few years ago when all these anti-bullying charities
began popping up, I thought it was a bit overdramatic. At points in my life I had been bullied, and I survived it and became tougher because of it. However, the more I learn about the effects it’s having on the victims, and how often these stories of suicide and physical attacks come out, I have become swayed to change my opinion. Now, with the idea that a victim who is physically built in every way to be a victim to no one, I think much more attention will be brought to the subject. Whether Martin’s allegations against Richie Incognito (and probably other perpetrators as well) are ever proven to be 100% true, doesn’t change the fact that we are forced to understand that ANYONE can be the victim of bullying and intimidation. Jonathan Martin may be weird, or socially awkward but he is the member of a team. Teams at a certain level of competitiveness must become a brotherhood in order to achieve success. Every athlete will tell you this. You don’t have to like everyone on your team just like you don’t have to like everyone in your family, but to achieve greatness you need to be able to respect and trust them. At some level, Jonathan’s trust in his teammates was lost. I’m not saying that everyone on the team and organization definitely should have known how Martin felt, but I’d be shocked if more than a few people didn’t have a clue. Regardless of whether Martin was actually bullied or not, the question will be does the team go far enough to regain his trust. Do they encourage him to return, do they do a better job of policing their own locker room, do they make him feel like he has brothers to the right and left of him? No one ever wants to feel alone, especially when they are surrounded by people. My challenge to the Dolphins and to society at large is rather than worrying about the guilt and innocence of these situations – start getting involved in the solution. Competitiveness needs to be compartmentalized. Parents and mentors need to find a way to play more of a role. Individuals need to start building real relationships again, and realizing that the impact of a social media influenced world can be as viral as it can be connecting. We all, myself included, need to do a better job of really connecting with people, and making sure that no one feels like they are in this thing all alone.