Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Bully

It came out this week that Richie Incognito, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, bullied teammate Jonathan Martin to such a humiliating degree that Martin left the team.

Incognito has a long and well-established history of being a complete d-bag, so maybe it's not surprising. Still, the content of the phone and text messages was shocking (and you can see it here).

What amazes me is that there are NFL coaches who still believe this is acceptable behavior and that Martin needed to "stand up" to Incognito because a bully will always back down when someone stands up to him.


Of all the time-worn tropes of childhood, "the bully will always back down if someone stands up to him" is the one that blows my mind. Does anyone, anywhere, seriously think that actually works? I'm not saying it never works (cue the video of the big Australian kid body slamming his tormentor), but in most cases, the difference in physical size or strength is the reason the victim is being bullied in the first place.

There are plenty of kids who stand up to bullies, get the crap beaten out of them, and go right on getting bullied.

Maybe a kid just doesn't want to fight? Why should he? What's wrong with a kid being gentle? There aren't nearly enough gentle people in the world--maybe if there were, there wouldn't be so many bullies. Or fistfights. Or wars.

I'm willing to bet that child bullies tend to stay bullies as they get older, and they're more likely to hit their wives and their children. They're more likely to humiliate their co-workers.

Their human wiring, for whatever reason, is broken.

There was a guy in junior high and high school. His name was David P., and he came from a different world. We were close to poor, but he was dirt poor. In seventh grade Health class, he was the only one who raised his hand when Mr. Counter asked if anyone had already had sex.

Back then, after P.E. class, we all showered together. David P. saw me and cleverly nicknamed me "Hairless" (rhymes with "Harris", get it?). That stuck, at least for him. For five years.

He'd bump into me, maybe push me on rare occasion, but mostly he just gave me a look or shouted "Hairless!" at me between classes.

There was no way I was standing up to him. I wasn't a fighter. I liked not being a fighter. I'd thrown exactly zero punches in my life (still have), I weighed a hundred and thirty pounds, and he was pushing two hundred. He played football, too, and he liked to hit.

I managed to have some perspective. I was going to college, and my future seemed almost unlimited. He was barely passing his classes, just enough to stay eligible for football. He was going nowhere. He intimidated me, but the future intimidated him.

When he was a senior, the football team lost in the state quarterfinals. I didn't go--I couldn't stand the football team, because they totally dominated the school and the city--but someone told me that they'd seen David P. after the game, crying hard as he told some adult fans "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Over and over again.

I felt sorry for David P. when I heard that story.

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