Here's How American Psychiatry Solved a Bullying Problem

Can medications solve bullying? -- the Miami Dolphins experiment

Posted Feb 15, 2014

Jonathan Martin is a sensitive Miami Dolphins lineman who left the team after non-stop harassment by several teammates, including racial slurs, simulation of sex acts with his mother and sister, and regular homophobic taunts seemingly engendered by, well, Martin’s sensitivity.  The case stands as a paradigm of modern mental health treatment.  That is, Martin was a member of an extremely well-heeled professional sports organization which offered great access to mental health treatment. It resulted in his near suicide.

Here’s how things played out, as detailed in a 144-page report issued by the National Football League.  Three of Martin’s teammates, led by fellow lineman Richie Incognito, “engaged in a pattern of harassment” towards not only Martin, but another (unnamed) lineman and a Japanese trainer (the trainer refused to cooperate with the investigation for fear of endangering his position on the team).  A short list of the bullies’ activities included mocking the trainer with faux-Asian accents, harassing him on Pearl Harbor Day, and calling him a North Korean as that country’s actions riled the American consciousness. 

As for Incognito, Martin, and the other linemen, Incognito would make jokes about slavery while Martin was teased for not being “black enough.”  Here’s the funny thing—on the Dolphins, and perhaps other NFL and professional sports teams, these taunts, often expressed in e-mails and text messages, and sometimes accompanied by touching, weren’t considered untoward. These imbeciles, according to the report, “did not intend to drive him from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.” And what would you call these activities?  The report termed them “a classic case of bullying.”  Powerful men at the literal center of an organization’s operation picked on other people in the organization who were vulnerable emotionally, physically, and occupationally. 

It seems that Martin’s main sin was not fighting back after another teammate, sensing his vulnerability, taunted him as a “bitch.”  Instead, Martin endured, steeling himself to attend team practices.  Finally, his seething anger and hurt resulted in his consulting the team’s psychiatrist.   And, here’s the most telling part of the story .  “When Martin discussed his mental-health issues with team officials after failing to report to voluntary workouts for two straight days, he was referred to a psychiatrist, who placed him on antidepressant medication.”  Well, that should solve everything!  In fact, the harassment continued and even intensified according to the report, with the result that Martin left the team permanently.  

Martin’s response seemingly caught team management totally by surprise!  After all, hadn’t they provided psychiatric care for Martin? What could possibly have gone wrong after that?  By doing nothing to stop the harassment, even after Martin reported the situation, the team condoned the behavior.  Instead of altering the locker room atmosphere and his teammates’ actions, the Dolphins sent Martin to a psychiatrist, who gave him medications.  

But the ungrateful Martin refused to give up his feelings and go along with the harassment.

Some people just don’t appreciate good psychiatry!

Stanton Peele has been at the cutting edge of addiction theory and practice since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program, and has written (with Ilse Thompson), Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program. He can be found online on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.