It’s a topic on which there should be no room for debate; Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin believed he was being harassed, and he reported that to the team instead of punching Richie Incognito in the face, or worse.
But the debate continues to rage among people in and around football, with some suggesting that Martin somehow did something wrong by making an official report of harassment to the team.
Former NFL running back Ricky Williams has chimed in on the subject, criticizing Martin for how he handled the situation and suggesting that Martin’s complaints were in some way contrived. Though Williams doesn’t have direct knowledge of any of the facts, he didn’t hesitate to suggest that Martin was in the wrong during an appearance on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco.
“I think I can relate and I can speak on this because I was at a point where I was done with the NFL, I needed to take a break,” Williams said. “Unlike Jonathan, I didn’t have to find a scapegoat or someone to blame or some situation — I just failed a drug test — but I didn’t have to bring anyone else down when I found out that I couldn’t handle what I was going through.”
Whoa. Williams didn’t bring anyone else down by abruptly “retiring” on the eve of training camp in 2004? Williams was the focal point of the team’s offense, and he left the organization in a lurch by walking away from the game just as the season was about to begin.
As Williams ultimately admitted, he didn’t leave voluntarily. He was facing a one-year suspension for chronic marijuana use, so he simply quit. That specific experience doesn’t exactly translate to the situation Martin was facing.
To his credit, Williams made a few good points while discussing the Martin situation. He suggested that a lack of leadership in the locker room allowed the interactions between Incognito and Martin, and Williams pointed out the difficulty of reconciling the concept of “bullying” with pro football.
“My first thought was, ‘How is bullying something that’s even mentioned regarding the NFL?'” Williams said. “Because that’s kind of what we’re taught to do, at least on the field, is to bully the guy across from us, so that we can win the football game.”
But Williams takes it too far by presuming that the violent nature of the NFL means that players should tolerate any and all insults and indignities — and that if they can’t or won’t they need to do what he did and quit the game.
“There’s no room to play the victim or to be bullied or to even have that discussion when it comes to the NFL. If you’re having that discussion it means that maybe you don’t belong in the NFL,” Williams said.
As others see it, maybe that kind of behavior doesn’t belong in the NFL.
Stanford coach David Shaw addressed this week the possibility that Martin could be blazing the trail for other players who realize that there are limits to what should be tolerated.
“Absolutely,” Shaw said regarding the possibility that Martin’s decision to take a stand via the proper channels is a “Stanford thing,” via the San Jose Mercury News.
“We’re proud of Jonathan,” Shaw added. “Like I said, the biggest thing for Jonathan, in my mind, is getting him back to a position where he’s ready to play the game that he loves.”
The comments from Williams and Shaw came before the report emerged that Dolphins coaches wanted Incognito to “toughen up” Martin. This added fact likely won’t change the minds of those who already believe that, in the rough-and-tumble world of the NFL, players need to get rough in return or tumble out of the league.
That’s why the league needs to send a clear and unmistakable message that Martin did the right thing, that harassment won’t be tolerated, and that any members of the coaching staff who caused or contributed in any way to the situation will be disciplined accordingly.
The league’s new commitment to safety, regardless of whether it’s driven by political, legal, and/or parental concerns, shouldn’t end at the playing field. Harassment among teammates can cause physical and emotional injuries, and the Martin case could be the starting point for real change.