In late October 2013, Jonathan Martin, second year starting tackle for the Miami Dolphins, abruptly left the team checking himself into a hospital because of relentlessly aggressive treatment he received from teammates.
Despite his physical size at 6’5” and 315 pounds, Martin was the target of workplace place bullying; a recent report written by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LPP confirms team misconduct from Ritchie Incognito contributed to the emotional stress and departure from the team.
What is compelling about the report is the characterization of both men fit the classic bully/target relationship.
Martin was mild mannered; unfortunately he had endured a history of bullying during high school. He had been chided to “man up, “or “not punk out,” when faced with aggressive behavior. By his own admission, he “played it off,” when met with a barrage of nasty, humiliating and sexually explicit and racially charged remarks about his mother and sister. Reports reveal that Martin had discussed depression and suicidal thoughts with a psychiatrist and prescribed medication to mitigate the issue. Despite the stress, Martin never reported the abuse to the Miami Dolphin organization for fear of being labeled a snitch or “Judas.”
In contrast, Ritchie Incognito had a history of aggressive behavior prior to bullying Martin.
In college, he had suspensions and ejections from games. He was accused for spitting on a player and arrested for alcohol in several other incidents. He was suspended indefinitely from Nebraska’s team, then enrolled at Oregon, only to be released a week later (Paul, p. 60, 2014). Despite his athletic talent, the Colts, the Ravens, and the Patriots passed on Incognito. In 2005, he was Sporting News “Dirtiest Player in the NFL.”
Looking at the past behavior of both players, they are the classic target and bully pair.
An overly aggressive and troubled young person evolves to terrorize a particularly passive colleague and peer. The unique facts of this case include a “fine book” where Incognito memorialized fines coerced through intimidation, sometimes up to $10,000 of Martin and other players. The press releases in October characterized a type of friendship between Martin and Incognito; however the independent report states Martin’s “effort to befriend Incognito also is consistent with the reaction of a person who is trapped in an abusive situation… it is a common coping mechanism exhibited by victim of abusive relationships” (p. 18). The report also confirms that Incognito joined with two other players, Jerry and Pouncey who bullied another teammate “Player A” and an “Assistant Trainer.”
Anecdotal conversations over the past months have laid blame on leadership, on Martin for being “too soft,” or on team captains for not reporting the misconduct. Yet, the independent report confirms this problem which culminated in the locker room was years in the making. Given the past behavior of Incognito, there is plenty of blame to go around regarding what an organization can accept from a player who has been previously suspended from not one but two college teams.
The recommendations are then for everyone in the environment.
There are many players in the workplace bullying scenario with the Miami Dolphins organization, just as there are many players in ANY workplace environment in which bullying and aggression are allowed to flourish. Any organization has a responsibility to vette out who is hired into the organization. High performers who are bullies, rule breakers and miscreants ultimately undercut the very high performance the organization once anticipated.
- The bully has a responsibility to seek help. Whether the bully is Ritchie Incognito, or any other aggressor, his personal reflection over the years riddled with arrests and suspensions should highlight a number of signals that need intervention.
- Bystanders and witnesses have a responsibility. By saying nothing, bystanders and witnesses allow the aggressive behavior to erode the organization. Saying nothing is a silent state of complicit support for the bully.
- The target has a responsibility as well. While this comment is not about blaming the victim, the responsibility is about self-advocacy. Just as a target of sexual harassment or racial discrimination has a legal responsibility to approach the offender, and then report the unwanted behavior to organizational superiors if necessary, the target of workplace bullying also needs to engage in self-advocacy to let his or her organization know when aggressive behavior has become a distraction to work performance.
This high profile Miami Dolphins workplace bullying case is proof positive that workplace bullying and aggression can emerge anywhere.
Bullying can take hold of an organization and ruin the careers and professional objectives of all those in the organization. For more information about the Report to the National Football League Concerning Issues of Workplace Bullying at the Miami Dolphins, written by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LPP, please follow the link to http://www.nfldolphinsreport.com/.
Read more posts by Leah Hollis, Ed.D. here. Leah is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.
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