I am sitting in my living room, waiting for the Green Bay Packers to play the Chicago Bears on ESPNHD. I am listening to the sports commentators address the issue before the Miami Dolphins and a couple of their players, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. It is not a feel good story!!!! As the discussion ensued, many issues were raised such as: racism, who bears responsibility for this behavior continuing like it did, it is not the only an NFL issue– it is bigger than just the NFL, and an issue of power in the locker room.
I listen and must admit, I had to do some backtracking on the story to completely understand what Incognito allegedly texted to Jonathan Martin. I won’t go into all the details and you can Google it to read the latest. However, I was quick to listen when they started to read some of the texts with all the bleeps put in. Now why in the world would I pick up this story to blog about? I often ask myself this question–why????
Well the answer came when I headed to get my second cup of decaf coffee. At its core, it is a about bullying, control, and power. It is about being in a place of privilege (Incognito as a veteran team member and white) and utilizing that power and position to threaten and control another team member (Martin is a freshman player in the NFL as they referred to him on ESPN and African American). According to the reports, this has been occurring for at least a year. As they shared the text messages Incognito is allegedly accused of sending, then this has huge implications for not only the NFL but for our children.
WHY: Because, at least in my community and I believe it is a country wide trend, we begin to teach our children the basics of football in third grade. Now I love football (and basketball) and am not opposed to this trend because it has many benefits, such as learning how to be a team player, wonderful exercise, etc. But you may be asking: Why so young? Well, part of the reason (at least in larger schools) is so they are able to play on the middle school and high school team when tryouts occur. Football as well as other major sports are held in such high esteem in our country that our children oftentimes choose to emulate the players. If this occurred on the field of third grade children playing football and it was discover that a life had been threatened via texting or any other form of social media, then the school or organization usually takes dramatic action such as suspension or expulsion.
In a world where meanness is so easily dispensed, it at least behooves us as parents, teachers, leaders, coaches or whoever else interacts with children on a regular basis to spend some time talking with our children about this incident.
In schools, bullying is not tolerated (or at least it is given good lip service that it is not). Does that mean it doesn’t occur? NO. However, I believe by raising awareness of the issue provides us opportunities to confront it and to begin to work with both the bully and the bullied to alter their behavior. Do I believe the schools bear the responsibility alone of confronting this issue? NO. Reality is that is occurs everywhere and in every workplace I can think of, which includes the church. It occurs to children and adults alike. It takes on subtle and overt forms.
The NFL has to do what that organization calls for it to do, but for the rest of us: our job lies in using this incident to spark a discussion. It is a teachable opportunity–potentially life altering if we are willing to take the risk, to make our communities safe for all persons who inhabit them or in this case, making the locker room safe for all who have to use it!!!