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By now, America should know that bullying is at epidemic levels, extremely toxic and can happen anywhere.
If we didn’t already know it from the suicides of teenagers bullied in school and on Facebook, or from the mass killings in which victims of bullying become perpetrators of horrific violence, maybe the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin by suspended fellow Dolphins player Richie Incognito will finally convince us.
Incognito, a supremely talented player, has struggled with anger and violence issues in the past.
He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2004.
He withdrew from the University of Nebraska after being suspended from the Cornhuskers for disciplinary problems.
He was thrown off the team at the University of Oregon.
He has spit at rival players.
He has assaulted fellow players.
He was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player in 2009.
He has been fined over $90,000 for episodes of unsportsmanlike or violent behavior on the field.
In 2012 he was accused by Houston Texans’ defensive end Antonio Smith of intentionally trying to break his ankle after play had ended.
Now, he is accused of sending Jonathan Martin Twitter messages and texts that use racial slurs and threatening him with oral rape and death.
Martin, who stands 6 feet, 5 inches and weighs 312 pounds, has left the Miami Dolphins to get help with emotional issues.
If bullying can make a man as big and tough as Jonathan Martin leave his job on the gridiron and head for counseling, then imagine what it can do to a fourth grader on a playground or a sixth grader who loves math or a high school kid who is questioning his sexual identity.
The truth is that it can lead to suicide, PTSD, recurrent major depression and a lifetime of impaired interpersonal relationships.
It can also lead to mass killings.
And if bullying can be either hidden from, or tolerated by, an organization as intent on excellence as the Miami Dolphins, then imagine how pervasive it can be in schools and on Facebook.
The truth is that bullying is happening every day in America, injuring hundreds of thousands or even millions of children, adolescents, teenagers and adults.
I have written before that we need to abandon the term “bullying,” in favor of “psychological assault,” and bring the law up to speed in imposing proper penalties for the behavior.
Another option would be to more vigorously apply criminal harassment and stalking laws to what has been dismissed as “bullying.”
I also would skip right past expecting most school systems and other environments to do the right thing and end bullying without massive pressure from outside—because almost none do, at present.
So, if your child is being victimized, I would go to the police and get a lawyer, without waiting for the local superintendent of schools to do the right thing. Because he or she probably can’t or won’t.
Richie Incognito was himself reportedly relentlessly bullied back in sixth grade for being overweight.
I have no doubt, whatsoever, that those experiences have played a role in his repeated problems with being a bully as an adult.
That’s how psychological assault works -- victims stop feeling for themselves because it is just too painful, then they stop feeling anything for others.
Now, Jonathan Martin needs help. Richie Incognito needed it when he was 11. And he still does.
If we can’t or won’t protect our kids, what do we expect is going to happen?