with Lynne and Leslie

On bullying, ball players and not defending mean as the status quo

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here!

I am not the sports expert, in a way that would make me understand the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins. The family expert would be my husband, a former high school soccer player and the decorator of our “Jersey Room” featuring the sartorial splendor of the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles, as well as ┬áthe University of Maryland. I have never been in a professional locker room, or even a collegiate or high school one – the only thing I’ve ever done that qualifies as athletic is running, and that’s in the slowest sense of the word. The only locker room I’m in is at L.A. Fitness, and nobody’s trying to bully you as much as they want to get dressed and go home.

So let me be the first to say that no, I do not understand the intricacies of NFL culture, or the toughening that it takes to put yourself in the line of men who are trying to hurt you for hours, week after week. I can’t tell you what that does to you or what you have to tell yourself to throw yourself out there, because I couldn’t do it.

But I do understand bullying. And when people think that the fault lies with the people who “let themselves” be bullied and not the people who go out of their way to bully people, we have a serious problem.

In other words – if you’d stop bullying me, I wouldn’t have to stop you from bullying me. You have the choice not to bully me. So don’t. It’s that simple.

It happened to me in school, in different ways, several times, from bigger or more popular kids calling me ugly and ridiculing me in the hall because I was weird, to being called a racial slur every day for weeks by a middle school classmate who eventually pressed a stapler into my hand when the teacher left the room, to having a high school classmate (who happened to be a football player) sitting behind me for weeks, calling me “White Girl” because he said I acted white, and threatening to beat me up until I reported it and he was switched to another classroom. Most of the time, the system protected me. Sometimes I just sucked it up and walked faster. Maybe the kids who did that had emotional issues that propelled them. But it sure wasn’t my fault that they did it to me.

As an adult, I understand the factors that make kids mean to each other, and why kids who feel helpless might take that helplessness out on other kids who seem weaker – Jonathan Martin’s former high school coach has said it didn’t surprise him that such an eager to please, talented kid would be an easy target because he isn’t going to necessarily say anything.

So, yeah, maybe a grown man, particularly a big man who makes his living based on his physicality, should be able to say “Back off me.” Maybe he should be able to settle it himself. It seems crazy to take it. But if that guy is in an environment where the younger players are expected to take a certain amount of abuse that’s meant to be harmless, and he takes it for a while to get along, it’s harder to stop it when that crosses the line to extortion or possible threats and harassment. There are conflicting reports about how close Martin and Incognito may have been and how voice mails that appear to be threatening could have been taken out of context. We don’t know.

All we know is that there is obviously a culture that says “It’s OK to go a little rough” and then has problems setting limits, that some players feel comfortable forcing others to give them money, and those players not in power go along with it maybe thinking something worse will happen if they don’t. Do they have to be in that environment? No! And that’s why Martin left. He decided to remove himself, which is what a man – an adult – does. So why is he being called a wimp? He tried to take it and he couldn’t. Where are we as a culture that we look at this situation and say “Stay and be harassed?”

Here’s the things. Kids, and apparently adults, can be mean. And the more power they get, the more they know that no one is going to stop them, they can get meaner. Telling a victim, “Well, it could be worse, shut up about it” is the same twisted logic I was supposed to follow last week when someone stole the case off my phone but left the phone. Wasn’t it better than them stealing the phone? ┬áSure. But you know what would have been even spiffier? THEM NOT STEALING ANYTHING. It wasn’t OK .

Look, people are going to be mean to you sometimes. Life is not going to be fair. Crappy things are gonna happen and sometimes you have to suck it up. And hard things really do sometimes toughen you. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

The problem I have is when the status quo protects the thing that’s trying to kill you.

2 Responses to “On bullying, ball players and not defending mean as the status quo”

  1. leslie, it makes me so sad to hear that you were bullied. i feel like i lived in this protected bubble when i was a kid because there was absolutely no bullying. it wasn’t an issue at all. and i think, oh it was because i went to an extremely diverse small private catholic school, but then i hear from others who went to similar schools and said the bullying was the worst. and then to hear there is bullying in the NFL! there is no place or environment that is immune.

    whenever these issues come up, i want to be the parent who brings it up and talks about it with my child openly and honestly. we have to stop the cycle.

  2. lesliegraystreeter@gmail.com' Leslie says:

    You sound like a great mom! I went to a variety of schools – my first bullying experience was in an international school in the Middle East filled with English-speaking kids from all over the world; then in public middle and high school in Baltimore. What those situations have in common are insecure kids who take that insecurity out on someone weaker. And it won’t stop until the culture changes.

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