Lessons from Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin and Public Reaction

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via cnn.com

The recent release of Ted Wills’s report on Richie Incognito’s bullying of Jonathan Martin brought workplace bullying to the forefront.

Sadly, what happened in the Dolphins locker room occurs far too often in our schools. In watching, listening and reading media and public reaction to the report, I’ve been shocked by how often I’ve heard the following two statements.

  1. People need to understand the context and the dynamics of a football team’s locker room.
  2. Jonathan Martin will not be welcomed back into the Dolphins’ locker room or any NFL team’s.

Is it any wonder why schools have trouble preventing bullying and harassment when such drivel spews from the mouth of experts, former players and the common man?

Let’s examine the two offending statements:

People need to understand the context and the dynamics of a football team’s locker room. The actions of Incgonito and two teammates are never permissible. As an educator, I’ve heard similar statements echoed by parents, students and even teachers,”They’re just teasing” or “Boys will be boys.”

Whether it’s a highly educated, intelligent 312-lb professional football player or a 65-lb, bespectacled, prepubescent boy doesn’t matter. The treatment of Martin was offensive and unacceptable. Where Martin “should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment,” students should be able to pursue their education at school and be who they want to be.

Jonathan Martin will not be welcomed back into the Dolphins’ locker room or ANY NFL team’s. Far too often the targets of harassment are vilified when they’ve done nothing wrong. According to Wills’s report, “the fear of being labeled a ‘snitch’ or a ‘Judas’ played a role in Martin’s decision not to report the abuse from his teammates. Martin believed that going to his coaches…meant risking ostracism or even retaliation from his fellow lineman.” Attaching such a stigma to telling undermines everything we should stand for.

Like many schools, the Dolphins failed to protect the target of bullying. Organizations–be they Fortune 500 companies or elementary schools–must create a safe climate, one in which everyone is respected and where inappropriate actions are reported by either the bullied or by bystanders.

It’s not enough to post anti-harassment posters and have a training session or two on proper conduct. Corporations and schools must establish a positive climate and culture where people can develop, be productive and pursue their dreams.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."
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