Big Red Spring 2014: Connecting the Dots

A short time after the story first broke in October 2013 of Jonathan Martin ’08 leaving the Miami Dolphins and claiming he had been bullied by teammates, I briefly discussed the subject with one Wolverine sports coach, who noted to me how remarkable it was that Harvard-Westlake had not just one, but two athletics alumni in the national spotlight within the past year – Jason Collins ’98, who garnered nationwide attention after coming out as gay in April 2013, being the other. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to un-see the ongoing similarities between the cases of Martin and Collins.

It’s eerie, really. Both guys attended and played their respective sport at Harvard-Westlake, then at Stanford University, and after graduating from Stanford, both were drafted into a major American sports league, NFL for Martin, NBA for Collins. Both stood up and spoke out, moving into the national spotlight for what are seen as “locker room” matters. Soon after National Football League investigator Ted Wells released his report on the Dolphins, effectively confirming Martin’s allegations, Collins signed his first 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets. And right after Martin was given a fresh start with a trade to the San Francisco 49ers, the Nets announced they were finalizing Collins’s fresh start and signing him for the rest of the season. If one was in the news, the other would not wait long to follow suit.

Laying it out in this manner, I know I may be coming across like some conspiracy theorist who will inevitably try to somehow tie everything back to the government, or the Illuminati, or both. That’s not what I’m going for. Allow me to tweak a line from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character John Blake in “The Dark Knight Rises” and say that, as a journalist, I am not allowed to believe in coincidences.

The reality is it’s no coincidence that both Collins and Martin have stood up and brought to the forefront issues that go beyond the realm of a hardwood court or turf field. Both at the core have demonstrated how far strong character reaches.

Attending Stanford is not a prerequisite for having strong character.  Neither is attending Harvard-Westlake, for that matter. Yet in my nearly six years here, I have to believe just from experience that Harvard-Westlake played a part in building the foundation for such character. Our high school is not perfect, but if Harvard-Westlake has done one thing right – beyond giving us a top-notch education – it’s fostering a setting of camaraderie and openness. And that is a sentence I am proud to write.

I won’t try to speak for any gay students or student-athletes – I don’t know what experiences or challenges they face on a daily basis, within the sports world or not. What I do know, however, is that the Big Red staff investigated the treatment of non-heterosexual Wolverine student-athletes following Collins’s announcement and failed to find accounts of student-athletes being treated negatively or differently. The Big Red staff conducted similar searches for bullying after Martin’s controversy surfaced, and again failed to discover any cases of harassment within the Harvard-Westlake locker room.

Unfortunately that does not mean bullying, harassment and taunting over sexual orientation have been extinguished from our school or even just our locker rooms. However, it does show that we, as a community that aims to facilitate maturity and forward-thinking in individuals, have together matured and progressed into a group of people who respect one another and, as Collins said, celebrate each other’s differences.

From caring comes courage. Make your mark.  The hard right over the easy wrong. Head of Upper School Jeanne Huybrechts need not look any further for illustrations that embody her choice of school mottos and expressions.

The expression that comes to mind right now is this: you are known by the company you keep. When Collins first came out, he did not know what kind of reaction he’d face, and among the mostly positive response, there have been reports of one player taunting Collins for his sexual orientation. Following his leave of absence from the Dolphins, Martin was essentially blackballed by a contingent of NFL players and fans labeling him as “weak” for not enduring the extensive harassment from his teammates. Both Collins and Martin have delineated what kind of company they keep, ignoring the ignorant and standing by those who have strong enough character to recognize right from wrong and welcome them with open arms. We as Harvard-Westlake students and student-athletes past and present keep Collins and Martin as our company. Let us continue what they have started in standing for what is right.