In today’s Repman guest blog, WalekPeppercomm’s Dmitriy Ioselevich provides a unique perspective on the Richie Incognito bullying brouhaha…
Reputation management typically comes in one of two forms—corporate or individual. But with today’s movement towards increased transparency and communication one group has gotten a free pass—the general public.
I bring this up in light of the ongoing Miami Dolphins bullying saga. For those not up-to-date on the goings on of the Dolphins locker room, the controversy began on Halloween when former Miami lineman Jonathan Martin announced that he would be leaving the team to receive help for emotional issues. According to a statement made by Martin’s attorney, David Cornwell, the 6’5”, 312-pound Martin was the victim of frequent harassment and bullying, including “a malicious physical attack” and “daily vulgar comments,” courtesy of his 6’3”, 319-pound teammate, Richie Incognito. Incognito was subsequently suspended by the team and the NFL is currently investigating the allegations.
In short, one very large man hurt another very large man’s feelings and then we all talked non-stop about it for the next two weeks. We asked questions, but not before first pointing fingers, and in the process we eagerly tore up the reputations of everyone involved and fed them into a shredder.
- How could the Dolphins not control their own locker room?
- The NFL doesn’t do enough to protect players from hazing.
- Richie Incognito is an A-Hole.
- Jonathan Martin is a weak person.
These are all quotes from journalists, other players and fans. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but the last one in particular stands out because it is the furthest from the truth.
The first reaction most people had to this story, including Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, was to wonder why Martin didn’t just stand up to Incognito and “punch him.” It’s a case study into human emotion that these observers equate aggression with strength and mental illness with weakness, and a poor reflection on fans in general.
Football fans, the same ones who have been clamoring for the league to do to something to protect players from head trauma, must suffer from short-term memory loss. Less than a year ago another troubled player, Kansas City’s Jovan Belcher, murdered his girlfriend, drove to his team’s practice facility and then shot himself in the head.
An increasing number of football players are choosing to walk away from the game before they end up like Belcher or Aaron Hernandez, and nobody calls them weak. But because Martin’s reason for leaving is some supposedly innocent bullying, then people naturally question his manhood.
Thankfully not everyone holds this view. Grantland’s Brian Phillips wrote a scathing article on the bullying scandal, making the point that “when a player says he needs time off for mental reason – again: in a sport with a suicide problem – it shouldn’t spark a national conversation on whether he’s soft.”
But in today’s machismo-fueled culture, that’s exactly what it does. As communicators we spend so much time and energy trying to educate the public about the newest trends or regulations, yet rarely do we step back and consider what the public actually believes. In the case of mental illness, scientific research and public perception are on completely different wavelengths. Most people probably know that the insane asylum glamorized by the TV show American Horror Story is barbaric, yet when a man like Martin asks for help the first reaction is to criticize, rather than to help.
This reality is a stark reminder that perception works both ways. While Corporate America is under increasing pressure to be more ‘community-friendly,’ it may be time for the public at large to share some of the responsibility. After all, communication is a two-way street.