Harassment in professional sports should be taken more seriously

Kevin Connell

We have all witnessed it, partaken in it or, in some cases, been the victim of it. Yes, bullying exists and always will. Don’t be fooled though; it’s not just limited to elementary and middle school. It happens in sports, too, even at the highest level.

Of course by now, many of you have probably heard about Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin leaving the team last week after a lunchroom prank gone wrong by his fellow offensive linemen.

The prank seemed innocent enough – the players stood up and went to another table right when Martin was about to sit down – leading many to initially believe that Martin is just overly sensitive, which may very well be the case.

However, following the incident, reports began to leak out about the alleged harassment Martin had been receiving from teammates that culminated with the indefinite suspension of offensive guard Richie Incognito, who left a series of disparaging text messages and at least one threatening voice mail on Martin’s phone.

Martin has been in touch with Incognito via text message since the incident, with one message from Martin reading, “Yeah, I’m good man. It’s insane bro, but just know I don’t blame you guys at all. It’s just the culture around football, and the locker room got to me a little.”

Now how “good” Martin really is, I don’t know. I do know that he left the team and could very likely be out for the remainder of the season. I do know he is currently seeking professional assistance for his issues, and I do know that, at the very least, Incognito’s voice mail was certainly not OK and should be made an example of by the NFL and for all sports.

Yes, I’ve heard the whole “there’s no crying in sports” deal plenty of times, and I don’t necessarily disagree with it. But when it gets to the point where someone becomes emotionally unstable over the incident like Martin was, that should be a cause for concern.

This may sound rash, but how easily could Martin have died by suicide? How easily could he have just walked into the team facility one day and caused deadly harm to others? We’ve seen these types of scenarios play out on more than one occasion, when the fact of the matter is that one is too many.

The whole situation is bizarre and unprecedented, but who’s to say this is the first time something like this has taken place? How many other NFL teams have similar situations going on right now? Is this going on in the NBA, NHL, MLS or MLB? With hazing toward younger players prevalent across all those aforementioned leagues, it’s not a stretch to say there are other cases where it has gone too far.

Take note of this, pro sports leagues. This could be happening in your teams’ locker rooms, and if not, similar situations will still probably arise in the future. The best thing anyone can do is let it be known that this behavior will not be tolerated. It’s not tolerated in just about every other environment or workplace, so why should it be any different with pro athletes? The whole “big and tough” thing should not excuse blatant harassment.

Fortunately, the NFLPA acted accordingly after learning of the situation by releasing a statement that said they “have an obligation to protect and support all of our members.”

Now it’s time for the NFL itself to take a stand.