What's Next for Jonathan Martin After Bullying Controversy?

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What's Next for Jonathan Martin After Bullying Controversy?

For Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, life might never be the same. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing. 

This is what keeps bullying victims up at night. This is what keeps them from coming forward and telling the truth about their experience. This is what keeps them bottled up, withdrawn and reliving the same abuse over and over. It's what gives bullies power. It's what feeds the spiral. 

What will happen? What comes next?

No, life might never be the same, but it doesn't have to be the beginning of any end for a talented young player like Martin with plenty of career left ahead of him. Martin was a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and although his play has been up and down, there is little doubt that he could have plenty of great football ahead of him. 

Being bullied shouldn't change that. It doesn't have to change that. 

For those unaware of the issue at hand, Martin has been away from the Dolphins since October 30, when a report surfaced from Fox Sports' Jay Glazer (via Pro Football Talk) describing Martin as "AWOL" due to a cafeteria incident involving his other teammates. 

Eventually, more and more details bubbled to the surface implicating Dolphins veterans—especially offensive lineman Richie Incognito—of widespread bullying, which kept Martin from filing a more formal complaint due to fears of retribution, per ESPN.com's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.

Needless to say, Incognito was not impressed by the reporting:

Once Pandora's Box was opened, however, even more details came to light, including a "rookie tax" that had gotten out of control in Miami, where younger players fed the veterans "Miami lifestyle." Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman quoted an agent saying: "The hazing thing is about the money. It's gone way too far."

A younger player in the Dolphins locker room described the scene to me as very uneven, saying that some younger players have it worse than others—depending on whom the veterans decide to pick on. The same player refused to comment on which players levied the most taxes but didn't deny that Incognito and the offensive linemen were a big part of the problem. 

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Richie Incognito (68) finds himself in the middle of controversy yet again.

It seems that Martin had it worse than others—reportedly shelling out $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas he neither wanted to attend nor ended up attending. He simply gave the money to Incognito, fearing what would happen to him if he didn't. 

The bullying didn't stop with just financial matters, as CBS' Jason La Canfora has reported that Incognito used racial slurs in text messages, referring to the biracial Martin as a "half-n*****." In those same texts, threats were reportedly made to members of Martin's family. 

In a twist that would be almost ironic if it weren't so sad, Incognito isn't a stranger to bullying. A feature by Bruce Feldman (then with ESPN) describes Incognito as a young man tormented by bullies both for his weight and then when he moved to a new school. 

Yet, oftentimes this is how the cycle goes. Over at "The Bullying Project," the dynamic is described in this way:

A child could have been a victim all through childhood and when emerging into adolescence or adulthood decides it is time to take control, control over others. Perren (2005) states that research has found that children who bully others, but are also bullied themselves form a sub-group that is called aggressive victims, proactive victims or bully-victims.

Martin must break the cycle.

The rest of the NFL must join Martin and break this cycle with him.

The NFL is a fraternity of sorts. "Brothers" help germinate the family-style mentality of not only the typical NFL locker room, but also player culture as a whole. In a world where social media breaks down doors, it's no secret that young players keep in touch with college teammates, divisional "foes" they see on a regular basis and other young players they met in pre-combine training or in the predraft process. 

Sometimes families—in part or in whole—can get awfully dysfunctional. 

A bully's power comes from victims and observers who do nothing. When the bullying is seen as part of normal initiation rites or simply dues that must be paid, it engenders more abuse and perpetrates the idea that the abuse is to be expected. 

The fear for Martin and others enduring the same sort of bullying around the NFL is the same fear that bullied persons—children and adults—worry about on a daily basis. Am I alone? Will anyone stand up for me? Why me and no one else? When does this end?

It's a fear—almost an embarrassment—that is fed by popular culture and an almost-bullying mentality from the general public. Victims are seen as "not man enough" or lacking in some way as to deserve the bullying. 

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

No. 

Bullying victims do not "deserve" abuse any more than any other type of victims our culture likes to pin blame on. Bad people do bad things. Bullies, by definition, are bad people making bad choices to make others feel bad. That's the textbook definition. 

This isn't "PC liberal-media propaganda." We're not "pussifying" America by pointing out that bullies deserve to be labeled as such for their actions, and that bullying victims like Martin don't deserve the derision often lobbed at them by "tough guys" both on social media and the real world. 

Bleacher Report's Collin McCollough said it best, calling for action from both the Dolphins organization and our culture at large:

This is about an opportunity for general manager Jeff Ireland, Philbin and the Dolphins organization to come forward and face the press with a firm stance against a major cultural blight. It is a chance for them to affect meaningful influence in an effort to bring to light what will not be accepted when it comes to bullying.

Maybe if we acknowledge that 6'5", 320-pound NFL players can be the victims of bullying and that even the NFL's "tough guy" culture isn't invincible when it comes to this malicious behavior, we can broadcast the meaningful message that it's okay to admit when you're a victim.

Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins late Sunday night, per James Walker of ESPN.com.

So what's next for Martin?

He's "outted" as a victim—probably against his wishes—but the shame that inherently exists when other people know you're a victim doesn't need to define Martin. Rather, it can drive him. Bullies can't stop Martin from playing football. They also can't "make" him bully others down the road. 

My wish for what's next for Martin is to become a powerful advocate for anti-bullying measures. As a successful, well-educated athlete, Martin is proof positive that it's not just the weak, small or somehow lesser kids that get picked on. No, bullying can happen to anyone. 

It's a message that Martin is uniquely qualified to deliver. 

The other statement that Martin can make is that being a bullying victim doesn't have to signal the end. No, life might never be the same for Martin, but life can get better awfully quickly. Victims often find out that they had support they never would have previously imagined. Eventually, Martin should be able to find himself back in the Dolphins locker room—or, if he wishes, in another city—and back to football in no time. 

The onus, then, is also on Martin's teammates, and on us—both fans and media. We also control what's next in Martin's life. If we make the narrative out to be how Martin deserved this treatment or just didn't stand up for himself enough, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy both for Martin and for others who are undoubtedly in the same situation. 

It is my sincere hope that this situation turns out to be a positive moment, and a direction-shifting one, for Martin. What's next for him doesn't have to be defined by how lesser men treated him and how other lesser men allowed it to happen. 

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route and follow him on Twitter.

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