Big Red Spring 2014: The Bullying Effect

Jonathan Martin ’08 wants to be left alone. After being bullied by his teammates and leaving the NFL Dolphins, Jonathan Martin’s ’08 harassment controversy has sparked many debates on the topic of bullying, including that of what he claims happened in his high school career.

Martin claims his negative experience stems from his education in “soft schools.” After attending The John Thomas Dye Elementary School, Martin continued his education at Harvard-Westlake, and then Stanford University. A report to the National Football League includes a text conversation between Martin and his mother regarding the effects of his education.

“I’m a push over, a people pleaser,” Martin said in a text message to his mother before he left the Dolphins last fall. “I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me. I mostly blame the soft schools I went to…”

Martin attended only private schools. The son of Harvard-educated parents, Martin played the viola before he dropped it to focus on football. At Stanford, he was a classics major.

His  nickname, “Moose,” was given to him in elementary school, based on his sheer size. The moniker followed him through middle school, high school, and college, always being referred to as Jonathan “Moose” Martin. However, Martin did not seem to bring his nickname with him to his pro-career.

In an interview with The Palm Beach Post, Martin’s former high school coach Vic Eumont said that Martin had  an excellent high school career.

“He always wanted to make everybody happy and make friends and not be a problem,” Eumont said. “All of his teachers loved him. All of his teammates loved him. His nickname was Moose and he was happy to have that. He was always ‘yes or no sir,’ do whatever you ask him to do. I can see where somebody that’s a bully will take advantage of him, and rather than him say anything would just hold it inside.”

Eumont did not believe Martin was safe from bullying.

“Bullies usually go after people like him,” Eumont said. “With his background, he’s a perfect target.”

Just as Martin expressed, Eumont sees the privileged background as a disadvantage in major league sports. Most of Martin’s pro teammates did not have the same education as he did, which set Martin apart and could make him a target.

“Stanford is unique in a lot of ways,” former teammate at Stanford Andrew Phillips said. “There is typical locker room banter, but there were political conversations, and philosophical conversations as well too. That is definitely different from things I’ve heard from other schools.”

Phillips also said that bullying at Stanford was extremely uncommon.

“I can’t even remember a time,” Phillips said. “Jokes happened all the time, but nothing beyond simple little pranks or jokes. It was never serious.”

Phillips said he never witnessed Martin being bullied at Stanford.

Former Stanford safety and NFL football player Coy Wire expressed the feeling of being an outsider in a column  for ESPN.

“Truthfully, I don’t think anyone ever feels universally accepted in an NFL locker room,” Wire said. “It’s a melting pot of people from different parts of the country, with differing cultural roots, moral compasses and socio-economic upbringings. The one thing all players must have in common is toughness, mental and physical, because the NFL likes to challenge its newcomers — all of them.”

Wire talked to a number of Stanford alumni and former NFL players to get more opinions on the subject.

“If you don’t fit into the mold, and the culture in the locker room, you won’t last,” one wrote. “Sometimes, in a gladiator sport like football, intelligence can be perceived as being soft.”

Private school policies on bullying are often different than those of other schools. Students are taught to either to handle their issues verbally or ignore their situations. A slogan such as “fake it ‘til you make it” is commonly cited as a way to combat bullies. While this may work well in these communities, Martin’s experience outside of this bubble has proved otherwise.

“Everywhere I go, I get punked,” Martin was quoted in the NFL report as writing to his mother. “I have a disagreeable personality, people are always annoyed by me. And I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t. High school still and will forever haunt me.”

Bullying at Harvard-Westlake is treated as a serious offense, although rarely one brought to the school’s attention. Honor board cases usually cover plagiarism and cheating, not bullying.

“If a student becomes aware of harassment of any kind, whether it be personal or not, or feels that he/she is a victim of harassment, this information should be communicated immediately to his/her dean, the head of upper school, or to the school psychologist or one of the counselors,” stated in the Harvard-Westlake Student/Parent Handbook.

“Any such complaint must be specific and should include all relevant information so that the school may conduct a thorough investigation. The deans are required to report such complaints to the head of upper school. The school will investigate the complaint. Upon conclusion of the investigation, the school will take action to remedy the situation,” the handbook says.

“The school will not tolerate any retaliation against a student who files a complaint or participates in an investigation regarding a complaint of harassment,” the handbook continues.

While students at Harvard-Westlake are taught to tell adults in serious cases of bullying, many are unsure of what to do if the bullying is less severe.

“I’m not sure what I would do [if I was being bullied]” former baseball player Harrison Banner ’15 said. “There’s such a gray area of what constitutes bullying. If it’s really severe I would definitely tell someone, like if it was explicit threats that affect my well-being, but I’m not sure what I would do if it was someone just making fun of me or playing around.”

It appears that the methods Martin was taught to handle bullying did not serve him well after he moved beyond his private school upbringing.

“. . . I just always avoid confrontation, which is what I’ve always done, and that leads to [people] perceiving you as soft. I did it at Stanford, and didn’t gain anyone’s respect until I became a star. Same thing in high school. I had no respect til I became a prospect,” he wrote in the note to his parents.

Martin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers on March 12, 2014, and will look to continue his playing career with his former Head Coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh.

“I’m really happy he will get a chance to put everything behind him and start anew with a great team like the 49ers,” said current wolverine linebacker Desmond Butler ‘15. “It’s also a great thing he gets to play for coach Harbaugh, who we played for at Stanford. I wish him all the best.”

With his return immanent, Martin acknowledges the great oppertunity he has been granted.

“I always wonder why I have these feelings,” Martin said. “I’m unbelievably blessed, I am living a dream that I have had my entire life, that most people would die even for the opportunity to be where I am. I have an amazing family, had a great upbringing. Why do I always feel this way?”

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