Ask the Mediator: Miami Dolphins John Martin and NFL workplace bullying

WASHINGTON, November 7, 2013 – Q: Jonathan Martin, a Miami Dolphins tackle, claims he quit the team because he was being harassed and bullied by fellow teammate, lineman Richie Incognito. When does intimidation become bullying and what role do ombudsman and/or mediators play in preventing it in the workplace? 

A: Martin’s case shows that even a 6-foot-5, 330 lb. linebacker can become a victim of bullying.

According to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, “bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power. Most often, it is repeated over time.”

Workplace bullying also includes undermining and sabotaging of another’s work. A single bully can have a detrimental impact on the workplace, especially when higher-ups ignore the problem or fail to intervene.

Bullies profile their victims to determine the best way to inflict the greatest amount of physical and/or emotional pain. Any weakness will be exploited.

Bullies also need onlookers to watch as they engage in humiliation and intimation tactics to gain power over their victims. if Martin’s teammates witnessed Incognito’s bullying behavior but did nothing to intervene, their silence may have actually emboldened Incognito.

The NFL has to police itself to determine if bullying was involved.

What is needed is an NFL Ombudsman and Mediation Program to address bullying among players and within teams, before it escalates to the point that lawyers need to be involved or violence erupts.

An independent ombudsman could have met privately with Martin and Incognito and assessed the situation.

If given permission by Martin to speak with higher-ups, a skilled ombudsman may have been able to keep Martin’s particular bullying situation confidential, while addressing similar problems within the Dolphins or NFL. Additionally, if both Martin and Incognito agreed to mediate their conflict, the ombudsman/mediator many have been able to satisfactory facilitate a resolution that met the needs of everyone involved.

Instead we have a media circus and political pundits jumping on the “racial” aspect of the conflict without knowing all of the facts.

Some say Martin may be struggling with mental health issues or considered “too sensitive” for the NFL. If so, calling Martin, who is bi-racial, racially explosive names and talking about his mother in a derogatory manner may have been too much for Martin to handle, especially if it was done repeatedly.

If this is really the case, kudos to Martins for modeling self-control and having the ego strength to complain to higher-ups that he was being emotionally bullied at the hands of Incognito. Countless numbers of vulnerable people confront similar taunts and intimidation, while their fellow peers watch.

Martin could have taken matters into his own hands and killed somebody, as former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez is accused of doing.

Martin and Incognito have lawyered up, so there may be little opportunity for Martin to meet with Incognito to learn why he was targeted or receive a sincere apology from Incognito. Nor may there be an opportunity for Incognito to become fully aware of the impact of his actions on Martin, the NFL or himself.

In an interview in the Miami Herald, Miami-based sports and entertainment attorney Darren Heitner warns that Martin may face retaliation if he attempts to sue the Dolphins for permitting a hostile workplace.

Heitner said: “My expectation is that the Dolphins will be able to avoid any litigation,” Heitner continued, “I don’t think it would be worth Jonathan Martin’s while to file a lawsuit against the Dolphins. “Not necessarily because he would stand without any legal claim, but mostly because of the fear of retribution, whether it’s fair or not.”

If Martin’s choices are either sue the Dolphins and face retribution or walk away,   not only is that a shame, it is a missed opportunity.

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Millicent Carvalho-Grevious

Dr. Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, is the founder and principal of Pennsylvania Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services, Inc. She has mediated conflicts for over 30 years, providing services in a variety of venues for private and public entities, including the United States Postal Service, the Office of Dispute Resolution of the Department of Education, and the office of Employer Support for the National Guard and Reserve. She was one of 14 conflict resolution experts from 11 nations invited to Chongqing, China in 2009 to participate in a forum titled, “Responding to the Challenges of Financial Crisis and Building Social Harmony.” Previously, she served as Director/Program Chair of Urban Studies and Community at LaSalle University, Associate Professor and Chair of Department of Social Work at Virginia Union University and Associate Professor and Social Work Department Chair at Delaware State University. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Social Work and Master of Law and Social Policy degrees at Bryn Mawr College and Master of Education (Counselor Education) at Boston University and Bachelor of Arts at LaSalle University.

Contact Millicent Carvalho-Grevious


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