The Professional Sports Bully: Incognito v. Martin

The recent controversy about the bullying of NFL player Jonathan Martin by teammate Richie Incognito is gathering steam. Modern Manners Guy weighs in on bullying in professional sports - and what it means for the fans.

Richie Frieman,
November 13, 2013

You’ve heard me talk about bullying many times, and in various forms. In my book, REPLY ALL…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career, I discuss The Office Bully. In a recent article, I took on the Boardroom Bully.

Today, we're going to (literally) tackle the Professional Sports Bully.

For those who haven’t yet heard about this situation, a couple of weeks ago Miami Dolphins football player, Jonathan Martin, made it known publicly that he had been bullied (and racially slandered) by teammate and resident thug, Richie Incognito. Apparently Martin wasn’t tough enough for Incognito’s liking so Incognito decided to throw his weight around - both on and off the field - to make Martin “man up.”

When I heard this, I was appalled. Bullying in professional sports? By a teammate, no less? These guys get paid millions of dollars to work as a team and now one guy is racially harassed and being told he’s too “weak” by a fellow player? Look, if you make it to the NFL, I doubt your strength or "manliness" can be questioned.

Since football is a team sport, you would think that Martin coming forward about the abuse would yield applause from his teammates, owners, and fans. You'd think that people would support his calling out a goon who gives the team a bad name. But no! This is not the case. Apparently, many people in and out of the locker room boldly defend Incognito.

Now as a manners writer, I am livid to see such brutish behavior being dished out and what's worse, accepted. And as someone who has played sports his entire life, I am even more appalled at the Dolphins’ reaction.  Bullying – in any form – should not be tolerated, Not as a joke, not as an example, and definitely not as a tool to make someone “man up.” Oh, and for the record, the term “man up” is about as obnoxious as it comes. So please stop using it.   

See also: Bullying Laws


What Martin did was exactly what you hope every person would do – stand up and say something about it.  Incognito is lucky Martin didn’t retaliate with violence.  No, Martin was reserved. He was an adult. He set an example of how to behave that we can teach our children when they play sports. Sports are competitive by design, and yes you can get heated with teammates from time to time, but that does not mean you pick on someone until they get in line to your standards.  However, rude and ignorant fans – and Dolphins players – are supporting Incognito and vilifying Martin for taking something out of the locker room and into the public eye.

I feel for Martin and am happy he did this. In fact, I wish he would have grabbed the microphone from the sideline broadcasters and announced how big of a jerk Incognito was to everyone. However in sports, it doesn’t work this way. In sports, if you’re a good player, and needed by the team, you can get away with anything and the management will turn a blind eye.  I bet you if Incognito was a forth string benchwarmer, the entire team would have thrown him right out the door themselves. But he’s not, and so the big bad jock gets away with picking on the smaller guy.  

See also: How to Deal With Workplace Bullying


I wish the Dolphins would do more than just suspend Incognito (which they have), but they won’t.  They’ll let it blow over a game or two and then pretend as if nothing happened – just a minor locker room scuffle that's all worked out now.  Meanwhile Martin is rumored to want out of his contract with the Dolphins and is worried about whether or not another team will take him on.

It makes me ill just thinking about it. The bullied being bullied long after the issue has come to light, and the bully getting high fives from his “boys” for keeping up a tough guy image. Makes me think twice about the jersey I want to wear on my back, and who I would like my kids to look up to one day. It’s a sad day for sports, and an even sadder day for those who will welcome Incognito back into their arms as if nothing ever happened - just because he helps win football games. 

What do you think of this situation? Post your comments below or tweet me @mannersQDT.

Football player image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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