Bullies: Who’s at fault? Smart people quit

Thirty years old. Richie Incognito is 30 years old. He graduated from high school twelve years ago. According to Wikipedia he’s paid 4 million dollars a year ($333,333 a month) and has been playing football since 2005—starting with the St. Louis Rams. But despite his age, his experience and his pretty righteous financial stability, it seems like he’s never grown up.

A USA Today article informs us that Incognito has been bullying rookies and walk-ons since his freshman year at the University of Nebraska. So much so, that one of the young men trying out for the team at Nebraska picked up his gear mid practice and walked off the field. And it doesn’t seem like he’s ever quit. Remember, he’s 30 years old.

Jonathan Martin is 24 years old. Fresh out of college, he’s the son of two Harvard grads, from an entire family of Harvard graduates, and is himself a graduate from Stanford. Martin is an African American who has been playing professional football for almost a year.

Martin and Incognito played alongside each other. Like Spartans of days long past, they were shoulder and shoulder, pushing attackers away from the most important asset of the game—the ball.

So why was there an issue of hazing? Why was the camaraderie between teammates so horribly fractured that one of the teammates left to get therapy and the other is suspended?

One word: Pride.

At the heart of every bully is a deep sense of insecurity lathered in gooey pride. I’m no psychology major, but as a former victim, and the older brother of a bullying victim, I’ve come to realize that every bully is just an arrogant little boy or girl with deep emotional issues.

Incognito is no exception.

According to his scout biography for ESPN, he has a long history of being uncouth and terribly violent toward other players. He was ejected from Penn State for fighting, has been charged for assault and is rumored to spit on players. The biography praises him as an incredible football player, but states that “his inability to control his emotions both on and off the field is such a significant concern that he’ll likely slip to the later rounds of the draft.”

The argument could be made that this is the culture of American football players. One could say that the culture raises them to be cocky, violent and mean for the sake of being the best at the game. But, ladies and gentlemen, I think we can all agree this behavior is unacceptable from anyone above the age of twelve. Then again, such conduct would be ridiculous to allow even in a 12-year-old.

Jonathan Martin stems from a long line of incredibly intelligent people. He was raised to be a very smart young man. Leaving a football team due to bullying may not have been the toughest thing to do. However, to abandon himself to verbal torment would have been against his smarts.

The smart thing isn’t always the tough thing, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t wiser.