Commentary: Bullying in sports raises important questions

What does it mean to be a man?

It’s a question that hasn’t been prevalent in professional sports until very recently. We’ve always assumed that athletes are the toughest people on the planet and we refuse to believe that such behemoths could be hurt by words alone. Enter the Miami Dolphins. The scandal involving teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin has revealed the ugly nature of bullying in the NFL and it’s still hard to assess whether or not we as human beings are able to sympathize with the manliest of men.

For those who haven’t followed the drama, Martin, an offensive lineman for Miami, stormed out of the team’s complex after his teammates pulled a prank on him. After a few days, it was revealed that Martin had reached the breaking point following relentless hazing by his teammates, particularly at the hands of Incognito.

Incognito sent several racist and objectionable texts to Martin and was dismissed from the team. The situation brings up the question: did Incognito go too far, or did Martin simply not have the gumption to face him and tell him he wanted the hazing to stop?

Rookie hazing is a tradition in the NFL, which is why many players are taking Incognito’s side. But the situation begs investigation. Hazing may be a tradition, but texting your teammate “I’m going to kill you” and calling him the n-word is not so much hazing as it is straight up mean.

Still, Martin should have stood up for himself and put a stop to the bullying. This is why it’s hard to put blame on just one person.

Who does society side with? A poll on ESPN.com suggests that people are split-38 percent deemed it the team’s fault, 37 percent thought Martin should have stood up for himself, and 25 percent were undecided.

It’s an unprecedented situation and opens up a Pandora’s Box filled with questions about masculinity. NFL players embody the tough-guy image that many men strive for, and that’s why so many people think that it was out of line for Martin to simply walk out on his teammates.

In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between. If hazing is a tradition, then a rookie should know that it’s part of the process of becoming a professional athlete. There’s no excuse for not being prepared. That being said, there should be a line that can’t be crossed, as Incognito did. And in the end, it’s up to the afflicted party to solve the situation like a rational human being.

I feel bad for Jonathan Martin, who, for all we know, could have some underlying mental issues that forced his hand. But I still think he should have gone to the team’s front office and voiced his displeasure instead of throwing his hands up and leaving.

In addition, Incognito has a history of bad behavior. His reputation precedes him, something that Martin should have used to his advantage.

There’s no winner in this soap opera-but there are lessons to be learned.