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Venkataraman: Jonathan Martin bullying is unacceptable

The sad stories coming out of Miami seem to be escalating in their intensity with each passing minute.

At first, the only news we had was that offensive tackle (and Stanford product) Jonathan Martin ’12 had angrily stormed out of the Dolphins facility in response to some unknown catalyst. We then found out that he had allegedly been the subject of targeted hazing — the brainchild of specific members of the team. We then learned that the biggest culprit behind the hazing was offensive guard Richie Incognito, who was (in an almost oxymoronic pairing), as recently as last year, voted the dirtiest player in the entire NFL whilst also winning the Miami Dolphins’ team-wide “Good Guy” award.

Incognito then took to Twitter to voice his outrage, ironically threatening violence on anyone who dared to question his good conduct. The final revelation was the virulence of Incognito’s assault against Martin. The material is not fit for print in any publication, but suffice it to say that Incognito’s attacks on Martin involved racist overtones and threats of actual violence.

The saddest thing of all has been the overall reaction across the NFL and the blogosphere that we live in today. Though many have spoken in support of Martin, who has left the team indefinitely, there seem to be an equal number of people standing by Incognito, saying that “this is how football works” and that Martin, by ratting out his teammate, had crossed some sort of line.

In my opinion, the only person who has crossed any sort of line is Incognito. His actions are simply indefensible.

It is one thing to give a rookie a hard time; for whatever reason, that sort of abuse has become the “norm” in all sports and that is a debate for another time. But what Incognito has evidently put Martin through far outpaces any reasonable limit on what is fair in hazing.

If you’ve ever watched “Hard Knocks,” the standard rookie punishment is getting tied to the goalposts, being doused in Gatorade or being forced to pick up the tab at a team dinner with the rest of the rookies. Never have I seen or even heard of players being forced to pony up $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas that they didn’t even go on, or suffering from months upon months upon months of persistent abuse and harassment.

Somewhere, hazing crossed the line into the full-scale bullying that Martin could no longer handle. Moreover, Martin is now in his second year with the Dolphins, having “paid his dues” by already having been on the receiving end of the hazing for an entire year. Yet, all indications are that Incognito continued his assault on Martin’s psyche until Martin finally decided that enough was enough last week.

It is quite clear that football culture in America is seriously warped, if in fact people think that this is the norm or at all defensible. Many are saying that Martin should have settled this mano-a-mano with Incognito. Others are claiming that he, as a reportedly quiet and introspective person, was an easy target for someone of Incognito’s ilk. Still others insist that whatever Incognito’s actions were, Martin, as an athlete paid by the Dolphins to play football, shouldn’t have walked out on his team.

To each of these viewpoints: I offer my sympathies, but you are so totally wrong. To me, Martin walking away showed that he was the better person. He was willing to make a stand in a nonviolent way as opposed to justifying the stereotype that we often unfairly peg offensive linemen with.

His soft-spoken and quiet nature might just have made him a bigger target, but that still misses the point. What he went through was far beyond what is both socially and mentally acceptable. Finally, although we tend to overinflate its importance in our society, football is just a game. Yes, it is an organized sport that millions pay to watch, but at its core, it is a game. Many things are more important in life than football, and mental well-being is one of them.

Bullying is a problem at almost every institutional level, from schools to summer camps to sports teams to God knows what else, and its consequences are consistently dire, both for the individuals involved and for the people surrounding them. It is sad but true that even adults can fall into this vicious trap, as this whole situation clearly evinces.

As facts continue to filter through the proper channels, I certainly hope that this whole sordid saga can come to a quick and clean ending. Jonathan Martin has exposed the noxious underbelly of hazing by standing up for what is right — or by simply showing that even a giant millionaire athlete can struggle to deal with a bully — it is now up to us to give him our support and to deal with the abusers firmly. There is no place in society for such jarring fundamental disrespect. We must strive to get rid of it as much as we can.

Contact Vignesh Venkataraman and let him know what you think regarding the matter in Miami at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.