Garrett Gilkey has been bullied.
He knows what it’s like and he’s talked about in great detail and with great eloquence in this story by ESPN.com’s Liz Merrill. He’s also dedicated himself to help make sure another kid is not bullied the way he was his freshman year in high school, when things got very, very ugly.
“It’s Martin’s Year 2 in the NFL,” Gilkey said today, discussing the issue from what he’s read and from long distance. “The problems have obviously been persisting for a very, very long time. Knowing the mental toll that bullying in general takes on a person, I can’t imagine what he’s gone through the past year and a half.”
As for the thinking that the NFL is a macho world and hazing is part of what you sign up for, Gilkey said some hazing can be fun, but bullying is not the same as hazing or rites of initiation (like buying a veteran’s dinner).
“I don’t care if you’re a 24-year-old NFL lineman,” Gilkey said. “It doesn’t matter. Bullying is the same if you’re a 24-year-old lineman as if you were a nine-year old girl. There’s just a level of empathy that didn’t exist in that context. I cant help but feel for Martin knowing that it’s a very real battle.”
Gilkey recently spoke at a middle school in suburban Peninsula, Ohio, and talked to kids about the importance of supporting each other. “The importance of community and leaning on each other,” he said.
Which is what he said appeared to be missing in Martin’s case -- support and the feeling of family.
“I just can’t help but have empathy for Martin knowing that the team is supposed to be a unit,” Gilkey said. “It’s supposed to function together as one. Those feelings of separation can be very damaging. Evidently it’s just a matter of time before that sponge has to release like it did.”
Gilkey understands that rituals are part of life in NFL. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson called it “part of the initiation of the brotherhood.” But Gilkey said hazing or ritual without a relationship can create bullying.
“When you have relationship embedded in the context, it’s going to make things much different,” he said. “Clearly with grown men you have to be able to distinguish that well. Clearly in this case I feel that it was a one-sided relationship.”
And it doesn’t matter that adults were involved, or that they’re part of a certain “manly” culture.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are or how big you are,” Gilkey said. “No one should have to go through that.”