Jonathan Martin is a 312 pound, 6’5” tackler for the Miami Dolphins. And yet he was relentlessly subjected to bullying that included racial slurs, intense verbal abuse, harassment, threats against his life and the safety of family members, and physical abuse. He was even forced to pay $15,000 so his teammates could take a trip to Las Vegas. If all of this isn’t horrible enough, there are new allegations that a larger culture of bullying, using harassment, shaming, and physical intimidation was acceptable and encouraged in the Dolphin’s locker room. The intention was to “toughen up” rookies and put them through a hazing process before they were deemed true members of the team. The fact that Martin finally had the courage to speak up is hugely important. The fact that he felt he couldn’t speak up until now is hugely distressing.
When I think about the emotional pain that Jonathan Martin endured, despite his position and size, it is overwhelming to imagine the pain that kids experience when they are bullied. According to the 2010 national statistics on bullying, every day 160,000 children miss school because they are afraid of being bullied there. 1 in 7 kids has either been bullied or been a victim of bullying. Over 56% of kids report that they have witnessed a peer being bullied in school. With the advent of social media, cyber-bullying is at an all time high. Revenge for being bullied is recognized as one of the primary causes of school shootings. And a new term, “bullycide,” is being used to describe the countless number of teenagers who take their own lives after relentless bullying. In fact, suicide as a result of bullying is up 58%. Bullying can manifest as physical attacks, destroying property or clothing, starting rumors in person or through social media, name calling, verbal abuse and threats, social exclusion, or public humiliation. Part of Jonathan Martin’s experience was intense verbal abuse, which is designed to shame the victim while making the bully look powerful and superior.
The impact of bullying is profound. It leads to feelings of worthlessness, depression, academic decline, social withdrawal and isolation, anxiety and fear, suicidal ideation and actual suicide. There are a number of websites that are designed to educate kids and adults about bullying and suggestions about how to intervene. The truth is, verbal abuse is the most insidious and often difficult to prove, as it leaves no visible mark. Cyber-bullying leaves victims feeling particularly powerless as the perpetrator is often anonymous and rumors reach so many people so quickly. One of the most important things we can do is encourage kids to report these experiences to an authority figure as soon as the bullying starts. Reporting is essential so adult intervention and consequences can be meted out early on. Don’t tell kids to ignore the bullying, it won’t go away. Bullying is a crime and bullies can be punished by the justice system. Since so much of the damage is done through cyber-bullying, I urge parents to monitor what their kids are saying and doing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other form of social media. Know your kid’s passwords and have access to their pages. Be involved in their “digital lives.” This is often the fastest and best way to know whether or not your child is bullying or being bullied by others. I hope and pray that there are serious consequences for any and all of the perpetrators who verbally, physically, and psychologically tortured Jonathan Martin. If justice is served, it just might give a message to the public at large and kids in particular that bullying is a crime committed by cowards with lasting and devastating consequences for the victim as well as the perpetrators.