Tag Archives: NFL

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Bullying in the Face of Football

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When the media bubble bursted on the player situation on the Miami Dolphins team this week, it would seem like bullying issues in the real world are some new idea. It would also seem, based on the responses from NFL players and personnel, that bullying is a non-issue in the NFL and that Jonathan Martin should have handled it differently. In my opinion, not only are the NFL personnel wrong about Martin and that bullying is a non-issue in the NFL, bullying is perhaps one of the most pervasive, systemic problems of our society.

Let’s start with idea of bullying. Bullying in the adult “real world” exists in a way not dissimilar to bullying in schools. Most people typically associate bullying as an activity confined to the borders of our adolescence, mean school yard pranks and embarrassment. Rather than claim it as bullying, in the grown up environment we tend to use words such as harassment, defamation, and extortion. The act of using someone’s superior strength to intimidate another into doing something is by definition bullying. Martin was verbally harassed, threatened and intimidated. Jonathan Martin, for all intensive purposes,  was bullied.

When you hear NFL players defending Incognito and personnel, such as current Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, say that Jonathan Martin should “punch” Incognito, you realize how Martin may have felt with seemingly no one to turn to for help. Sure, the NFL is a a league of hyper-aggressive males and confronting bullies may be the option many in the NFL would advocate for dealing with the testosterone charged lockers rooms, but it is literally only one option of many.

What is perhaps even more upsetting than this brutish, closed mindset of the NFL personnel, is how Martin was basically chastised for his decision to seek help. In an essay written by ex-Dolphin Lydon Murtha that was published by Sports Illustrated,  Murtha claims Martin “broke the code” by going to the media and that he should “handle it indoors”. A lot of NFL players, including his current teammates, have echoed similar views about going to the press and keeping club issues in-house. What has gone unacknowledged is the fact that Jonathan Martin didn’t go to the press at all, but left the team directly to seek medical attention elsewhere. It was only after reports of Martin going to find help he wasn’t finding in the Dolphins organization that the reports started piling in about Martin and Incognito. Martin’s lawyers and agent have spoken on his behalf and given evidence to back up Martin’s decision to leave the organization, but Martin himself has not spoken in public since leaving the Miami Dolphins. Unless checking into a hospital for emotional distress is really backwards, Martin didn’t break any “code”.

On a final note, the notion that Jonathan Martin couldn’t handle the pressures of the NFL, wasn’t enough of a man to play the game is absurd. While it helps to have hyper-aggressive athletes fight tooth and nail on and off the field, that shouldn’t exclude players with just as much talent that lack that kind of persona. Jonathan Martin was a second round draft pick (42nd overall) who clearly has the talent to play football at the highest level. Mike Mayock’s (NFL.com)  draft analysis of Martin states that he was one of two tackles that could be considered “elite” from that draft and that he is a, “First-round talent right here, tremendous arm length. I call him a little bit of a finesse player. Doesn’t mean he’s not tough, but he’s so good with his feet and understands angles. I believe the Dolphins just got themselves a starter on either the right or left side.” Although Mayock subtly references to Martin’s personality and play as “finesse” his overall impression is a starting, NFL-caliber player that rated as a steal for the Dolphins in the second round. While it remains to be seen what will happen with Jonathan Martin,  it’s clear that the NFL’s path to rebranding its image has an added wrinkle of bullying, which is both ingrained and to an extent tolerated by many in its subculture.

LamarWoodley

LaMarr Woodley Stresses Education at Kids Summer Program

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As summer camps and academic summer sessions begin, LaMarr Woodley took some time to advocate the importance of education to a lucky group of local Pittsburgh students enrolled in the Summer Dreamer’s Program. Woodley, an All-Pro linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, stressed the importance of education to hundreds of students on Tuesday morning while reflecting on his own mixed experiences in school.

For all his achievements and tough guy persona as a ferocious tackler, Woodley openly admits to being a little kid stuck in a man’s body, and even getting into trouble in his school years. “I had football and basketball taken away from me because I was class clown and didn’t pay attention to my teachers. I didn’t pay attention to my parents,” Woodley said. “I wasn’t always a nice kid growing up. That’s why I wanted to tell them a little something about my background…I was pretty much saying you can change your way and become something in life.”

The Summer Dreamers Academy, which opened in 2010 by the Pittsburgh Public Schools, is a no cost, premier learning camp to engage students in fun and learning during the summer months. The school is open to all K-8th grade students in the District and last year alone had over 4,000 applicants for 2,300 slots. The camp succeeds on teaching kids math and reading skills in preparation for the fall semester while  having fun in the summertime. Woodley commended the teachers and parents for their commitment to education, “That shows the kind of program they are running here when you have those kinds of energy levels for those kind of teachers early in the morning and the commitment from the parents getting their students here..having an opportunity to have this summer school program is great.”

 

 

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Brendon Ayanbadejo Leads Charge on Gay Rights in Sports

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The National Football League has climbed its way to the forefront of American sports, becoming one of the most visible, popular entities in the nation. It is also undoubtably the most physical, ultra-masculine sport we have in this country, defining the pinnacle of manliness. It is a sport that screams toughness, extreme physical fitness, discipline and order. While these concepts can be positive, they are too often angled towards heterosexuality with bigoted attitudes towards homosexuality. There is seemingly little room in the NFL and other major pro sports for a player to be openly gay. The unwritten rule is gay rights in sports is unacceptable.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is trying to change all that.

Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, 3-time Pro Bowler and 16-year NFL veteran, made waves in the sports world recently when he stated as many as 4 NFL players  may soon come out as gay. Although he has since backtracked on those comments during an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, he remained staunch in his belief to organize and support those players, helping pave the way to changing the homophobic culture of the NFL.

A longtime advocate of gay marriage, Ayanbadejo attributes his inspiration to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that allowed his parents, a biracial couple, to legally marry and form his family. Partly for this reason, he views his advocacy is not just for gay rights, but a continued push for equal rights that go beyond the gridiron. Ayanbadejo has also clarified that the players he is in discussions with are not just NFL players, but in other sports as well.

It should be noted that the NFL, NBA, or MLB, three of the most prominent American sports leagues, has never had an openly gay active player. While public sentiment is rumbling towards acceptance of the LGBT community in many aspects of society,  there is still plenty of resistance and anti-gay sentiment embedded in our sports culture. For one or more professional athletes to come out as an active player, it wouldn’t just be a monumental day for those individuals, it would be a landmark moment in American history.

The historical significance and the pressure that comes with it is perhaps what is most admirable about Brendon Ayanbadejo’s leadership. He is the rare athlete that is brave enough to speak to both his beliefs and that of the greater good. An intelligent, articulate and well-spoken person, Ayanbadejo embraces the prospect of being the “face” of a cultural movement. Only time will tell what changes actually occur, but the influence of his seminal dialogue cannot be ignored and demonstrate the  power of an individual to act as a positive agent of change.