Patrick Brothwell is talking about bullying — both the act and the word.
I teach high school, so I’m no stranger to the term “bullying.”
We have in-service days dedicated to spotting and stopping bullying behavior. We have a school-wide bullying policy and in my journalism class, where students write about current events, bullying is a popular topic because of the widespread media attention it’s received in recent years.
“Bullying,” and you could argue this a good or bad thing, has become a buzzword. It’s something media and students like to throw around. The mention of bullying, no matter what channel, guarantees an audience. You say the word “bully” and you get attention. It’s certainly seen some heavy usage this week, unconventional usage if you think about it.
“Bullying”, as I’d mentioned before, has become a buzzword, but unlike many buzzwords that have completely reinvented connotations, bullying has a history. When you hear bullying you conjure up images of recess thugs and kids beating each other up for lunch money and that red haired kid from A Christmas Story. Unfortunately “bullying” carries certain juvenile implications.
It’s why I did a double take when I saw the “Bullying in the NFL” headline the other day. Undoubtedly you’ve heard about the incident on the Miami Dolphins. This case of bullying was not in a middle school cafeteria or on a high school bus. It was an incident between two grown men in a professional setting. Now, admittedly I do not follow football. I am not here to make sweeping generalizations about football players, or football culture or the NFL. I’m here to make an argument about the words we chose to use to describe certain situations.
In my opinion, because of its buzzword status and the connotations it brings about, “bullying” should not be used to describe things that happen between adults. It devalues the situation. It infantilizes it and automatically makes the parties involved comparative to children. That’s not conducive to the kind of dialogue we want these situations to foster.
Personally, I feel like we throw around the term a little too liberally. Overuse of any word takes away from the impact and severity it once had.
It’s a grey area for sure, but to me, “bullying” is repeated awful behavior directed towards an individual for no other reason than to cause that person distress. It’s not an off the cuff remark and it’s not someone disagreeing with you or putting down your idea.
So when I read headlines like “Football Bullies” and “Will Bullying Soften the NFL” and “The NFL’s Bully Problem,” it makes me think. Some sports bloggers even suggested that it’s a ridiculous notion that “bullying” would exist in the NFL.
I agree, but probably for different reasons.
I think it’s a ridiculous notion that adults are dealing with “bullying.” It’s inherently embarrassing that someone who’s in their 30’s feels the need to pick on someone to show how tough they are. It’s also embarrassing that we use the word bullying to describe what, if the allegations are true, happened in Miami.
These men worked together. Say what you want about it being a sport, but we’re talking about professional football so this is a professional setting. In a professional, adult setting, this is not bullying. This is harassment. It’s unprofessional and it’s heinously immature.
Calling Martin a “half-n****” is not a bullying issue, and calling it such whitewashes what’s actually going down. Calling Martin a “half n****” is racism. It’s ugly prejudice and ignorance at its finest. This is not a “boys will be boys” ragging on each other issue. This is hate speech.
And calling what happened “hazing” is just as problematic. It wouldn’t be if we were talking about a high school lacrosse team, but we’re not, we’re talking about grown men, who are adults. “Hazing” and “initiation” are things kids do. Where you hazed at your new job? I wasn’t. I was oriented. I might have been assessed and tested, but it was only on subjects that pertained to this job. When we’re talking about adults who are making adult decisions in a professional setting we need a lexicon that reflects that.
Do I have an answer to what that is? No. But I’m open to suggestions.
So this is why I say there’s no place for “bullying” amongst men. While I think a discussion on the ethics of what happened is a pertinent one, I’d like to see that particular term taken away from the adult habitat.
Racism, hate and harassment haven’t lost their luster yet. Their just as severe as they’ve always been.