The image of a victim of bullying isn’t usually a 6-foot-5, 312-pound National Football League lineman, but there is such a victim, and it illustrates how pervasive the problem is.
Twenty-three-year-old rookie Jonathan Martin has chosen to take himself out of what he felt was an intolerable situation, the onslaught of taunts and harassment from teammate Richie Incognito. Incognito has been suspended; Martin’s future in football is uncertain.
While the NFL studies what should be done, many of Incognito’s teammates have come to his defense. But while the public gets a rare, in-depth look at locker room antics – by grown men – gone awry, one question must be answered. If someone can bully a professional football player into leaving his team, how do we expect a small child or teenager to cope with bullying?
The subject of bullying is often in the news, especially as tormenters take to the Internet to get at their victims wherever and whenever they choose. Cyberbullying has been at the center of recent high-profile suicides.
Western New Yorkers remember Jamey Rodemeyer, who was 14 when he hanged himself in his backyard a couple of years ago. He was being relentlessly bullied by classmates because of his sexuality.
More recently in Florida, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick was bullied to such an extent that she threw herself from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant. The bullying didn’t stop after Rebecca died. Two of her tormentors took to Facebook and expressed glee at the girl’s death. Disgusting. The girls were arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking.
But one would think that even the worst bullies grow out of such heinous acts. Not Incognito. He reveled in psychologically torturing Martin, the biracial son of two Harvard graduates, calling him “weirdo” and hurling racial slurs at him. Martin – a classics major at Stanford – was not a typical NFL player, and that may have set him up as a target.
The NFL is a league where practical jokes and hazing have been an acceptable gantlet for rookies to endure. Veterans have rookies sing songs, wash cars, carry equipment off the field and pay for expensive meals, and even tape them to goalposts. It was all considered part of the “fun.” But Incognito took it to another level.
The NFL and its Players Association will determine what will happen to Incognito. Bullying is unlikely to go away, but states can fight the worst of it with laws imposing consequences for bullying.
New York passed a law requiring schools to designate an official responsible for prompt action on reports of cyberbullying and to coordinate with police “when appropriate” and to develop strategies to deal with the situation. But the bill provided for no criminal charges.
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, and State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, and other members of the local delegation tried to correct that with a bill that would make bullying through electronic means a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. The legislation passed the Senate but bogged down in the Assembly. That’s a shame.
Bullies must face consequences, otherwise they grow up to be just like Richie Incognito. A loser.