Micah Rice: Bring bullying into light

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

Have you heard about the trouble among the Miami Dolphins?

Even if you're a casual sports fan, you no doubt have.

And that's a good thing.

Not long ago, the alleged bullying of a young player by a veteran teammate would barely have raised an eyebrow.

Most sports fans would have waved it off as part of locker room culture and probably blamed the victim. They'd say the player should toughen up if he wants to play a "man's game."

But here we are talking and writing about it. We do so because the turmoil in Miami is one spasm in a larger metamorphosis not only for the NFL, but society in general.

Let's review. The trouble in Miami came to light when second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin took a voluntary leave from the Dolphins. He was distraught over alleged harassment by teammates.

Veteran guard Richie Incognito, a member of the Dolphins' six-player leadership council, was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team." Among other behavior, he allegedly left a voicemail on Martin's phone that includes a blizzard of profanity, threats against his mother and a racial slur.

Some teammates have come to the defense of Incognito. Coaches had reportedly asked the 9-year player to toughen up the young Martin after he missed a workout.

From a football standpoint, the issue strikes at the identity crisis within the sport. The toughness fans and teammates revere is being challenged by a growing awareness of the toll football has on player's body and brain.

And that the outside world heard of Martin's plight defies the locker room creeds of handling issues "in house" and never showing vulnerability.

But players are talking. About injuries. About mental issues. About looking out for others.

And while some are defending Incognito, possibly out of fear or meat-headedness, an ESPN survey of 72 players showed a majority would not want him on their team.

There is a culture change happening within America's most popular sport. But this is also one of those transcendent issues where sport is a reflection of society.

And this story has struck a nerve because it involves larger issue of bullying in a society that is waking up to the destructive impact it has on our youth.

Unfortunately, you can partly thank school shootings for that.

Sometimes the pace of enlightenment is glacial. Other times, a realization hits like an avalanche.

When we ignore or stifle dialogue on a looming issue, such as bullying, the threat grows. Each putdown or instance of looking the other way becomes another snowflake on an overloaded slope.

But when we talk, debate and seek to understand the root causes of an issue, it's like chipping away at the cornice.

Bullies thrive in the dark. They resist openness, dialogue and transparency because those illuminate their own shortcomings.

It's up to us, and people like Martin, to turn on the lights.