By Dick Lyles
The controversy surrounding allegations that Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito bullied teammate Jonathan Martin is yet another example that many Americans, including many in leadership positions, don’t understand the most fundamental concepts of interpersonal respect.
The issues of hazing, harassment, bullying, practical joking, assault, intimidation, and the like, have all become so scrambled that it is hard to find anyone having a coherent discussion about them. We need a reasoned discussion leading to responsible guidelines that can be implemented nationally to ensure people everywhere are treated with dignity and respect and that everyone is safe from bullying, intimidation and actions directed toward them that can be either physically or psychology injurious.
I know about hazing, having survived Plebe Year at the U.S. Naval Academy. The hazing we endured was intense, seven days a week, from reveille to taps, even during meals. There were strict rules and guidelines (sometimes not followed) and the stress was both physical and mental. Some midshipmen couldn’t handle it.
Two years after graduation, at the age of 24, I was assigned the role of General Quarters Officer of the Deck responsible in combat for the lives of 390 sailors. I appreciated having the ability to process complex information from multiple sources and make good decisions, even though the physical and mental stresses were enormous. We engaged in direct combat on five different occasions without loss of life, or serious injury. Even though I hated my Plebe hazing, I believe it helped me perform better as a naval officer later.
But there is a big difference between the hazing endured by Plebes at the military academies and the kind of bullying behavior attributed to Richie Incognito. Bullying is not hazing. Bullying is not practical joking. Nor is hazing an excuse to extort tens of thousands of dollars, make personal threats, or launch racial slurs.
A student at Poway High was arrested this past week for allegedly making terrorist threats against other students. It appears the threats Incognito made against Martin were equally as substantive. In other words, if the allegations are true, we are talking about felony criminal behavior. Not to mention the civil rights violations and extortion.
If the coaches encouraged Incognito to bully Martin because “he wasn’t tough enough,” then they should be fired. If coaches have a problem with a player’s toughness, the coaches should deal with it. That’s what they’re paid for. But Martin’s attorney made the most important point: “Jonathan Martin’s toughness is not at issue. Jonathan has started every game with the Miami Dolphins (before his departure) since he was drafted in 2012. At Stanford, he was the anchor for Jim Harbaugh’s ‘smash-mouth’ brand of football and he protected Andrew Luck’s blind side. The issue is Jonathan’s treatment by his teammates. Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing.”
If head coach Joe Philbin had no knowledge of the harassment, then he and his assistant coaches should be fired. Likewise, if others on the team knew about and tolerated this behavior, they are lousy teammates, destined to be losers. It appears no one involved has a clue about how to create a winning environment.
Let’s get rid of the double standard. Bullying, threats, extortion, racial discrimination can be neither tolerated nor excused because they took place in an NFL locker room. It is wrong to rationalize abusive behavior because football is a brutal sport. Everyone should treat others with respect and every leader must ensure basic standards of respect are maintained — regardless of the setting.
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author. Reader comments, through letters to the editor or online, are encouraged.