Lessons from the NFL: Even football players have trouble standing up to bullies

     Richie Incognito (68) and tackle Jonathan Martin (71) stand on the field during an NFL football practice with the Miami Dolphins. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Richie Incognito (68) and tackle Jonathan Martin (71) stand on the field during an NFL football practice with the Miami Dolphins. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    While the recent bullying scandal on the Miami Dolphins football team did not come as a total shock, the way it’s playing out feels like a natural springboard for talking with kids about bullying.

    October was National Bullying Prevention Month, and according to stopbullying.gov, 28 percent of students in sixth- through 12th- grades have experienced bullying. Even more alarming, 30 percent of students admit to having bullied others. Sadly, only 20 to 30 percent of those bullied notified an adult.

    It’s that last statistic that seems to be most relevant in the Martin-Incognito situation. Martin, a grown man and tackle for the NFL, was leery of letting anyone know he was being bullied by a fellow teammate. Yet we expect children to be self-reporters of similar types of abuse.

    But this case shouldn’t serve as an excuse; it should serve as a lesson. A lesson that even seemingly “tough” kids like football players can be victims of harassment. A lesson that the sports culture can blur the lines between kidding, hazing, and bullying. A lesson on the important role the bystander and authorities play in either stopping or allowing bullying to continue.

    What conversations can we have with children about this?

    I think we can level with children and let them know that as Martin’s case shows, it’s not easy for the victim to report bullying. Let them know that we understand the social and status variables involved in speaking up against this type of behavior. But we can also let them know that ultimately, the only thing that can stop bullying is addressing it and that they will be heard and supported when they speak up.

    In light of Incognito’s suspension, I also think we can let children see that even the tough and gritty NFL won’t tolerate a bully. That can serve as a powerful lesson for all parties in any bullying scenario.

    For tips on helping children with bullying, visit Stop Bullying’s support page.

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