Unless you have been in a cave for the last three weeks, the names Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin are very familiar to you. As a recap both Richie and Jonathan were starting linemen for the Miami Dolphins this year (in fact side-by-side linemen). Jonathan abruptly left the Dolphins and claimed he was a victim of bullying by Richie and other teammates. Various tweets between Incognito and Martin surfaced and were made public. Incognito was heard using the N-word and threatening to kill Martin’s entire family. This led to Incognito being suspended for conduct not becoming of an NFL player. Martin so far has made no comment. However, Incognito has talked to the press admitting he said everything that we heard in the tweets. He also said he was not a racist and in fact Martin was his best friend. So the question is: If Martin was his best friend why did Incognito say and act the way he did to Martin? In one of Incognito’s press conferences paraphrasing him he said his behavior was the result of the CULTURE OF THE LOCKER ROOM. One dictionary definition of culture is it represents a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization.
Why am I writing about this in my baseball blog? The answer is the culture of a locker room exists in all sports. My view of what happened between these two men was in fact caused by the culture of the locker room. To be hazed and made to do embarrassing tasks is the culture of most locker rooms. It is considered a rite of passage for a first year player to suffer through all sorts of hazing. In the case of the Dolphin locker room, rookies were asked to spend several thousand dollars for dinners for their teammates. They were also the brunt of all sorts of embarrassing pranks. It seems that Incognito went too far and Martin could not take it anymore. Yes, I believe Incognito when he said he is not a racist and had no intention of hurting anyone in Martin’s family but was himself a victim of the locker room culture.
Can any good be derived by what happened in the Dolphin locker room? The answer is YES. We must change the culture of the locker room. This includes locker rooms for high school, college, and professional athletes. Instead of hazing a new player let’s welcome that player into our family. Make the player feel at home and treat the new player with the same respect as we treat the veteran player. In the case of Martin, he was a second year player but because of his intellect was considered different from the average NFL player. Being different is also another reason that certain people are bullied and hazed.
Unfortunately, the locker room is not the only place where bullying can take place. Bullying also can take place and does take place on the playground. When a child seems different other children group together and begin hazing or bullying that child. This becomes a daily routine and the affected child may eventually be unable to take it anymore. Just like Martin refused to return to the Dolphins, the child may refuse to return to school. Are the children doing the bullying necessarily bad children? I do not believe these children are bad but like Incognito they are victims of the culture of the playground. The playground is a children’s locker room.
Can this problem be solved in the locker room and on the playground? I believe the answer is YES. It is up to the person in charge of the locker room or playground to make it clear that hazing and bullying will not be tolerated. The coach or teacher or parent must be alert to any hints that this conduct of behavior is going on and instantly stop it.
It is imperative that coaches, teachers and parents teach the children and adults they supervise that a team or group of classmates are a family and should act like a family by respecting each other.