Commentary

Rolle is right: Silence not only option

Giant safety says Martin, others should feel empowered to speak up about bullying

Updated: November 7, 2013, 10:57 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants safety Antrel Rolle appeared on the radio Tuesday in the wake of the bullying scandal swirling around the Miami Dolphins and said a few things he could've framed better.

But Rolle didn't deserve to be put under fire the way he had been before he appeared by his locker for nearly 10 minutes Wednesday to elaborate on his original remarks. And he's right -- he did not flatly "blame the victim" when he said Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin didn't have to take teammate Richie Incognito's disgusting threats and insults until the emotional stress drove Martin off the team.

Rolle's more nuanced point was that Martin did have choices when Incognito began to cross the line.

Rolle was trying to crack open a new discussion: How can someone avoid becoming a victim of bullying? And what resources are available to avoid reaching the heartbreaking point that Martin did?

If you ask me, Rolle's twist on the Incognito-Martin story is the sort of instructive, not destructive, conversation we need more of now. After all, the first reports about the horrible things Incognito said and the emotional effect they had on Martin have been known for days. The ensuing feeding frenzy has provided the gory details about Incognito's disgusting behavior.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
John Geliebter/USA TODAY SportsAntrel Rolle shed light on a bigger bullying issue Wednesday when he clarified previous remarks he made on the radio.

But speaking in general terms, Rolle recognized there is another important message to put out to others being bullied: Victimhood needn't be inevitable.

Could Martin have had more power to deflect Incognito's threats if Martin had just known how to claim it, as Rolle suggested? Or what if Martin had known or felt safe enough to go privately to Dolphins' management or ask the NFL Players Association for help? Couldn't recognizing there are options save the next person who's harassed?

That's essentially what Rolle suggested.

"I'm not blaming the victim -- who's blaming the victim?" Rolle protested to the 20 or so reporters and cameramen gathered at his locker. "I said there's absolutely no room for that [kind of bullying behavior] in this league. What I said is [Incognito] is 100 percent wrong. No individual should have to go through that, especially in the workplace, especially among your peers and your teammates. ... It's very, very unnecessary. Something I never heard of before.

"But, at the same time, Jonathan Martin is a 6-foot-4, 320 pound man. You know, I mean, some point in time you need to stand your ground as an individual.

"Now, am I saying go and attack him, go fight? No," Rolle stressed. "I think we all understand we can stand our ground without anything being physical. ... And as far as I know, Richie Incognito didn't put his hands on him or rough him up or manhandle him. So you stand your ground. As a man ... If somebody like Incognito says, 'Hey, you're going to pay this [$15,000] bill to Vegas?' No. Stand up for yourself."

And then?

"Then what could [Incognito] have done? Then what?" Rolle shot back. "If Richie Incognito takes it out of line at that point, then you take it to a higher power. You take care of yourself or take it to someone else. It's that simple. And he's going to be the one in trouble. Not you."

Incognito has indeed been suspended indefinitely.

But the run-up to his punishment wasn't quite as simple as Rolle makes it.

We now know Martin didn't seek management's help as fast he probably wishes he did because he wasn't sure they were on his side or happy with his play. We now know Martin was understandably cowed by the power imbalance between him and Incognito, a veteran on the team and a member of the Dolphins' player council. And it's understandable that Martin, a second-year pro, might've been too embarrassed to share what Incognito privately said in the profane text messages and voicemails he left him.

But Rolle is right, too: Taking such abuse isn't the only option. And no one being bullied has to suffer as long as Martin did. He might've been spared at least some of the pain if he knew he didn't have to take it.

Rolle, now a Giants team captain, admits similar get-tough discussions happen about players on every NFL team. "But," he quickly added, "there's many different ways you can go about handling it, as opposed to what happened with that situation ... There's always somebody that maybe needs to be tuned up a little bit ... [But] you can talk him up in the meeting room, say, 'Listen. This is the way you need to go about it. This is what we expect from you. This is what we're depending on you to do.' You want to toughen someone up? Hey, go attack him, work him up in practice, keep it out there on the football field.

"When things start getting personal as far as threats, death threats, racial slurs, that's when things are getting taken out of hand."

So much of this seems obvious, right?

Yet so much of it didn't happen in Martin's case.

Incognito's behavior was inexcusable. Targets like Martin need to be told and reassured they have choices. There's no shame in saying no more abuse, and there's no weakness in asking for help, even if you are 6-foot-5, 312 pounds.

Both are ways of asserting yourself as a man. Every man has a right to be treated with basic dignity.

So don't get mad at Antrel Rolle for believing that.

"My father always told me, 'Don't let any man run over you, stand up for yourself. And I think that's what Jonathan Martin should have done," Rolle said.

"Am I wrong for saying that? No. I'll say it again."

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