By: Eric Thomas

Bullying has claimed its first victim in the NFL. There isn’t another way to describe it, and even that sentence seems a parody of itself. If you were to just brush across the facts in the case of Ritchie Incognito and Jonathan Martin—text messages, voicemail, drunken rant against minorities in a bar on TMZ—it’s clear to see that the Dolphins did the right thing. There’s something odd about the response from a few people in the audience, though.

A few, certainly initially, chalked it up under the rubric of “the Wussification of America.” You’ve probably heard this before, but in case you haven’t:

“Back in my day… (the “day” in question can range anywhere from the early fifties to the late nineties) men were men con-SARN-it. We drank whiskey directly from the glass with NO ICE and smoked non-filtered cigarettes and threw the butts out the window into BALES OF HAY. We didn’t talk about feelings, punched each other in the head if we wanted to communicate, AND NEVER USED SEMICOLONS. If you were getting bullied, if someone was insulting you, we told them to rub some dirt on it, dry your tears and get over it.”

Or something like that. The word itself “wussification” has taken on a certain meaning all its own, because it’s been used so many times in the culture that most people recognize it. The discussion of men becoming less “manly” has been examined a zillion times on a zillion different shows, because it’s really easy to get people riled up over. It doesn’t take a lot of nuance to process the question, “ARE THESE KIDS TODAY A BUNCH OF WHINERS?! RENDER YOUR INDIGNATION HERE…”

Not to reveal the man behind the curtain, but you really shouldn’t believe the whole “wussification” thing. It doesn’t exist. The people who remember the past as some kind of Spartan city-state are aggrandizing the past into fiction. “Wussification” is standard talk-show-host drivel tossed out by a bored mind on a distracted Friday in the summer. It gets the audience blood hot, and the host can take the rest of the hour off.

To be fair, the “Wussification” tent was packed and put away when it was revealed that Ritchie Incognito was leaving text messages and voice mails in the form of a series of threats and racial slurs. The Dolphins, when the evidence emerged in the sunlight, wanted nothing to do with it.

This might be the moment where we all take a step back on bullying. We probably should. Most of us had some form of bullying in our lives, but usually it’s pretty light. Others get it a whole lot worse.  The majority of us don’t participate in it, but we stand to the side and tacitly witness it. We don’t say anything when it starts, because we don’t want the bullying to start raining down on us.

We all saw it, and not just when we were young. We’ve seen the guy in the office who’s been bullied. Bullies don’t change; they just go into other places. You’ve seen them in bars, golf courses and gyms. They continue on, often finding someone to pick on. Maybe you’ve developed an ability to send bullies on their way (maybe you have a smart-alecky sense of humor or muscles of your own) but not everyone does. You’d think Jonathan Martin would be immune, a large man with large muscles of his own. The fact it’s even happening makes this case much, much different.

The standard line defense of bullying is dealing with bullies “teaches” you something about how to deal with adversity. Have we ever flipped to the other side and asked what the consequences are for the bully? What becomes of them? Do they continue on, unfettered, and bully their way through life, continuing to leave a trail of victims? Is this why domestic violence is still such a prevalent problem in this country? homophobia? Intolerance in general? What are we teaching the bully, by allowing them to move through society using intimidation and violence as tools of influence?

Just a thought. I imagine that just like most things these days, we’ll move on to the next topic quickly before shouting it into a stalemate and moving on. That’s all we seem capable of doing in this country anymore.

Why, back in my day…


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