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NFL Bullying Did Contribute to Player’s Mental Health Issues

NFL DolphinsBy Brad Broker

The NFL has a big problem on its hands.  The report commissioned by the league to investigate allegations of bullying, harassment and racism concluded that the Miami Dolphins did, in fact, engage in several incidents of bullying, harassment and racism.

The report confirmed allegations by the Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin that Richie Incognito persisted in a “pattern of harassment” that ultimately led to a voluntary leave of absence by Martin and mandatory suspension of Incognito.  The NFL hired independent investigator Ted Wells to determine whether incidents of workplace misconduct occurred and examine the bullying allegations.

“We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people,” concluded Wells in his 144-page report.  “The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.” 

While acknowledging that the NFL may not be the typical workplace environment, Wells said that “even the largest, strongest and fleetest person may be driven to despair by bullying, taunting and constant insults.”

Martin left the team last season due to emotional distress after a series of harassing texts, locker room taunting and constant hazing led by Incognito. The report found that teammates John Jerry and Mike Pouncey also played significant roles in the harassment of Martin.

This was a “classic case of bullying, where persons who are in a position of power harass the less powerful,” the report said.

The report devotes a section to details the harassment that led to Martin’s depression.  Martin tried to befriend Incognito and the others believing that the abuse would subside. “He typically did not challenge language he found hurtful; instead, he often turned or walked away or attempted to use body language to convey his disapproval, or just tried to laugh it off.”

Wells concluded that “sufficient evidence exists to support a finding that the abusive conduct by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey was at least a contributing factor to Martin’s emotional distress.”

Regardless of the location of bullying or the size of the people involved or the amount of money they make, it still can have the same effects as bullying kids in school. According to the government’s website StopBullying.gov, a resource of the Department of Health and Human Services, bullying can lead to “depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.”

Even after Martin left the team, the abuse continued.  According to the report, the following text conversation came after Incognito supposedly offered Martin support:

“Incognito: (Expletive) Jmart That (expletive) is never [allowed] backPouncey: Bro I said the same thing I can’t even look at him the same he’s a (expletive)Incognito: My agent just asked if we held mandatory strip club meetings Jmart is (expletive) ratting on everyone
Pouncey: Lol wow are you serious he is a (expletive) boy
Pouncey: He’s not welcome back bro I can’t be around that (expletive) guy
Incognito: (Expletive) that guy if Ur not with [u]s Ur against us
Pouncey: No question bro he’s a coward for snitching
Incognito: Snitches get stitches Blood in blood out (expletive) guy
Pouncey: He’s dead to me”

“It’s time for Richie Incognito to find another line of work,” NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe told USA Today. “I think the commissioner needs to and will send the strongest of messages to let everyone know that this will not be tolerated.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to come down hard on those involved in the harassing incidents.  This is a critical time for the NFL, particularly as it faces a season with the first openly gay player now that Michael Sam, the all-American University of Missouri defensive end who came out last week, enters the draft.

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