Bullying is often associated with children, but former Toronto Argonauts star Mike (Pinball) Clemons isn't surprised that a burly NFL player was antagonized to the point where he left his team midway through the season.
Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the Miami Dolphins last week after reportedly receiving constant harassment from teammate Richie Incognito. Incognito, a starting guard, was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team for his interaction with Martin, a 2012 second-round pick from Stanford.
Dolphins coaches reportedly asked Incognito, a nine-year veteran who is white, to toughen up Martin, who is bi-racial, after he missed a voluntary workout last spring. Incognito is accused of using a racial slur to describe Martin and also sending him threatening text messages.
"What it really shows is bullying is a microcosm of society, that it's in our daily lives," Clemons, the former Argos star player and coach who's now the CFL team's vice-chair, said in a telephone interview. "Bullying is often associated with kids but it's full grown, it's everywhere.
"It's in the office, it's on the playground. Everywhere we work, live and play bullying is present and the more we see it and understand it, I think the more capable we are of dealing with it."
Incognito has made headlines before. He was suspended during his college career with Nebraska after getting into an altercation with a teammate, and also had legal issues while with the Cornhuskers.
Incognito has also earned a reputation of being one of the NFL's dirtiest players and in '09 was released by the St. Louis Rams for undisciplined play. But in Miami, Incognito was voted by teammates to serve on the club's player council.
Bullying is a subject near and dear to the hearts of Clemons and the Argos. The CFL club has been involved in the Huddle Up Bullying Prevention Program for over a decade.
Argos players and officials annually visit area schools to educate students about bullying, encourage them to stop doing it to one another and how to help those they see being bullied.
And Clemons said bullying can take place in even the most simplest forms.
"We do little things on a daily basis that bully people," Clemons said. "We lay on the horn when somebody is in traffic.
"They can't control traffic, they can't do anything but we're mad at the car in front of us. Or we're in a hurry because we didn't leave ourselves enough time and so we're mad at the car that's going the speed limit. We do this in our everyday lives but the key is most times we keep ourselves from going too far."
The reality in sports — especially the pro ranks — is all players are subject to some form of rookie hazing or initiation. Football is no different, with first-year players often having to carry teammates' helmets and shoulder pads after practice and being responsible for covering the cost of the veterans' dinners.
But the prospect of a 6-foot-5, 312-pound All-American offensive lineman being bullied to the point of leaving his team to seek counselling is difficult to comprehend.
"Once you break training camp, the guy is no longer a rookie, he's a part of your team," Clemons said. "There are places where it lasts lightly for that rookie year, they have to do little things like bring doughnuts when you have an early flight . . . but after that (rookie year) it stops."
Despite his diminutive size, the 5-foot-6, 170-pound Clemons said he was never the victim of bullying but was forced to deal with racism growing up. Clemons believes Martin took the right approach in handling his situation.
"He took the absolute right route because he did what he thought was proper," Clemons said. "You can deal with the guy personally, and who's to say he didn't try? We don't know that.
"You can take it to the organization or do what he did, which was walk out and when they followed up on it said "This was why I did what I did.' In a school situation we always say you need to let someone in authority know."
Clemons said while bullying is a very serious issue, he's hopeful lessons can be learned from this.
"Many times we think of the kid being bullied is a kid that looks like me, tiny and diminutive," Clemons said. "This guy is a big dude . . . it's not always the small guy.
"Hopefully better things will be ahead because of this. It's hard to think of this process as being a good process but I believe it could have many good outcomes."