If you’ve turned on ESPN in the past week and a half you are probably familiar with the bullying scandal that has rocked the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. If not, here’s a little refresher.

Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito has been suspended indefinitely by the team after he was accused of repeatedly bullying and harassing fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. Incognito has admitted he made graphic racial slurs and even death threats via voice mails and text messages toward Martin but that Martin had done the same. Incognito has stated the two were friends, and he was just trying to toughen up the young lineman.

Martin left the team Oct. 28 after a lunchroom incident and has not returned. He has since hired a lawyer, David Cornwell, who has claimed Martin was harassed by multiple players, including Incognito, over the past year and a half.

The incident has opened the lid on NFL locker rooms and the culture of football.

The world outside of football doesn’t like what it has seen.

Football by nature is a barbaric game. It involves smashing one’s body against another’s repeatedly. Life-altering injuries are common place, and the lingering effects of playing the game impact nearly everyone who’s ever played.

Many former and current NFL players have come out in support of Incognito since the incident. They’ve said it’s part of the game and that in football you need to have that sort of mentality to survive.

The party line has always been “what happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.” Martin broke that code, and, for some, that is worse than any offense Incognito or any of the other Dolphins players did to him.

Football players don’t understand how the rest of the world could see the Incognito/Martin situation as a black eye on the sport, and we don’t understand how they can’t.

That’s ultimately the problem here. The incident, and the culture of football in general, are taking place in one world but being judged in another. I don’t risk my short-term and long-term health every day to do my job. My guess is neither do you. We’ll just never understand. Football players have long used that excuse to justify their actions, but that isn’t going to work anymore.

We’ve evolved. Things that were once part of our culture are rightfully deemed inappropriate now. We once lived in world where African Americans were owned as slaves, and women weren’t allowed to work for themselves, let alone vote. We’ve seen the error in our ways and are trying to change for the better. It’s about time football follows suit.

The biggest divide in our country isn’t between black and white, gay or straight or even between the rich and the poor. It’s between those who evolve and those who don’t. Our world is changing, even if we have to drag those unwilling along with us.

Athletes often talk with reverence about their sport. They throw around words like honor, respect and integrity.

How about starting with common decency first? There’s a big difference between being intense and being out of line.

At the end of the day, Martin was unable to do his job because of a hostile work environment. How was the bullying and the hazing suppose to make him a better football player? How was it going to forge the unbreakable bond with his teammates that’s needed to perform team athletics at the highest level?

In reality, the football culture has crippled Martin mentally. Maybe his teammates were trying to break him down to build him back up, but what happens when things go too far? You have what we have here.

Perhaps Martin doesn’t have the right mental make-up to play football, but we’ll probably never find out. No person should ever have to go through what he had to deal with during the course of his brief NFL career. It doesn’t matter what he does for a living.

Sports are a business. Players are employees. Why aren’t they judged like the rest of us? If Martin was an accountant or an engineer and this was happening to him, would we feel any worse for him? We shouldn’t. The treatment he received should be just as reprehensible because he’s a football player as it would be if he had any other profession.

Football needs to clean up its act. Is this what we want to instill in our young football players? Do we want them to grow up to be bullies and jerks? By not demanding change, aren’t we giving credibility to Incognito’s tactics?

The game at all levels has always been about building better men. It’s about using what you’ve learned inside the game and applying it to the world outside of it. We use our experience in athletics to become good people and leaders in our community. Sports can teach us those principles. The Dolphins, the NFL and all of football need to remember that.

Rightly or wrongly, we’ve always looked at these athletes as role models.

It’s about time they start acting like it.

— Zach Beehler is a sports reporter for the Hermiston Herald. He can be reached at zbeehler@hermistonherald.com

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