Locker Room Bullying

It is regretful that the “culture of sport” is often associated with negative aspects of being on a team — such as hazing and locker room bullying. These long accepted and in some cases even defended behaviors do anything but foster positive sport experiences for their victims.

Locker Room Bullying Is No Joke

“It’s just good old fashioned teasing” or “he can’t take a joke” are usually the responses when a team member has the courage to speak up about the locker room bullying they’ve experienced. It is just that reaction we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks to the situation regarding NFL Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin sharing his experiences of bullying victimization from his teammates, particularly teammate Richie Incognito.

Martin reported being called names of a racist nature, receiving texts and messages threatening him and his family with crude acts, and experiencing acts of isolation (such as the cafeteria prank where everyone else at the table gets up and leaves when you sit down to eat). Martin has since left the team and sought counseling to cope with the emotional turmoil he has experienced through all of this.

Given that this kind of behavior would absolutely not be accepted in most settings, it is interesting that many of the Dolphins players have defended Incognito and their own actions, citing it is all part of locker room behavior. Also, they have accused Martin of violating an unwritten “code” by bringing this harassment to light. They claim that Martin never defended himself in person, and would laugh when experiencing harassment in person. However, it is easy to understand how a person who feels threatened by those around him would choose to passively laugh rather than confront the individuals — especially if they are fearful of retribution.

This case spotlights the core issue — the acceptance of harassment and bullying as simply being a part of the sport culture. These are grown men acting this way, which begs the question of where did they learn this was appropriate behavior? Why is it okay to treat other teammates like this?

The locker room bullying has real consequences. Jonathan Martin is undergoing counseling, and Richie Incognito has been suspended from the Miami Dolphins for four games (though some would argue this punishment is far too light). And of course, thousands of young football players everywhere are watching this happen. Who among these young athletes will understand that bullying really has no place in sport? Conversely, how many of them will agree with Incognito and others who say locker room bullying is simply a part of playing football?

More importantly — what will you, as parents and coaches, say to your young athlete regarding this matter? Because they are waiting to hear from you, whether you realize it or not.