The evolving bullying case involving the Miami Dolphins teaches one lesson above all others -- keep the evidence when someone is mistreating you. When reports first surfaced that Jonathan Martin, a second-year offensive tackle out of Stanford, was taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with emotional issues related to being bullied, the classic victim-blaming spin began: Martin couldn't hack the typical locker-room environment; Martin was weak; Martin was the one with the problem.
The alleged chief perpetrator and ringleader in the bullying, veteran player Richie Incognito, sent a series of indignant and outraged tweets when the story first broke, demanding that his name be cleared. Current and former players in the NFL tried to minimize the bullying, saying that Martin suddenly flipped out after a simple cafeteria prank.
Until the evidence came forth. There was nothing sudden or simple about it. The cafeteria prank was one in a long list of bullying behaviors aimed at Martin. Bullying is repetitive, unwanted cruelty that occurs in the context of a power imbalance. Martin was able to show that Incognito's actions fit the requirements to be labeled as bullying. Severe bullying, at that.
As reported by ESPN, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that the following is a transcript of a voice message Incognito left for Martin in April 2013, a year after Martin was drafted:
"Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."
In addition to receiving hateful messages, Martin was intimidated into contributing $15,000 to pay for a trip that he didn't even attend. Martin was the target of verbal, physical, relational and cyberdigital aggression, and he had the evidence to prove it.
The Dolphins could no longer blow the situation off as a case of Martin being a weakling. There was condemnation of Incognito's behavior, followed by his suspension from the team. The talk switched from "typical locker-room teasing" to possible hate crimes.
Martin is not a wuss. Martin is not a weak. Martin is smart, because he did what targets of bullying need to do: he kept evidence. Without proof, targets of bullying are too easily blamed for the victimization. Produce the proof, however, and the whole conversation turns around.
Some have asked how it is possible for a 300-pound pro football player to be a victim of bullying. It's easy to see if you break down the power dynamics. The power was on Incognito's side, not Martin's. This wasn't a case of two men alone facing off in a room. It involved the tacit support and endorsement of Incognito's behavior by all the bystanders who witnessed the bullying and dismissed it as harmless teasing. Martin didn't feel as if he were up against Incognito -- he felt as if he were alone against the team.
The balance of power has shifted. All because of the evidence.
Carrie Goldman is the author of the award-winning book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.