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Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders

Leaders: Friend? Mentor? or Bully?

cracked-egg-close-up-death-concept-30315238The media reported earlier this week that Richie Incognito, suspended guard for the Miami Dolphins, had reached a financial settlement and would sit out the rest of the season. [Ref 1] This announcement follows six weeks of turmoil that some now call the Dolphins Bullying Saga. Things started to unravel on October 30th when reports surfaced that second-year lineman, Jonathan Martin, left the team.

Just a few days after Martin’s departure from the team, more details emerged that suggested he had been subjected to bullying. Most fans of professional sports, especially major league football – one of the toughest sports that is played – asked is this possible? Brett Favre, retired NFL player and quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings, admitted that when he first heard this story, his initial thought was, how do you bully a 320 pound man? After all, the very nature of a football player is about being rough, tough, and big bad stuff!

On re-reading the article by USA Today of Incognito’s college and professional sports career and history of bullying, when they discussed his relationship with Jonathan Martin, this statement stuck out: “Incognito played a large role in it.” This could imply that other players and possibly even staff participated in the alleged bullying incidents, but to a lesser degree.

Bullying is a growing issue in our society. For certain it has been around for a very long time, and until recently, many of us assumed that most pre-teen ruffians grew out of it. As Dr. Phil McGraw so often states on his talk show, “Bullies don’t just terrorize the schoolyards. They grow up to be spouses, parents and bosses.” My focus for this post is adult bullying.

small-man-under-big-leg-scared-34633713As adults the abuse moves from the playground to the work place, and in the case of Martin and Incognito, the professional football field. A recent survey of American workers found that more than 41 % of them had experienced some form of bullying at work in the past year; 13 % were bullied on a weekly basis. “Often, adult bullying occurs between bosses and employees,” explains Irina Firstein, LCSW, a relationship counselor in New York City. [Ref 2] However, it also occurs between employees as well.

Incognito’s reputation on and off the football field as a bully goes back to 2002 when he was a freshman at the University of Nebraska. However, the storm that created his explosive personality appears to have started in grade school in Glendale, AZ. Incognito and his father, Richie, Sr., both acknowledge that he was teased and ridiculed for being overweight as a child. [Ref 3] Over time, Incognito apparently learned to compensate by using bullying tactics to address the teasing and hurt that it caused him, and it apparently became an effective method for intimidating his tormenters as well as anyone that he didn’t like or who got in his way.

What’s even more interesting is the relationship between Martin and Incognito. Incognito was assigned to mentor Martin and was supposedly told by the coach to help him toughen up. Toughening up means different things to different people and in the world of sports, it is probably in the mind of the beholder. One criticism that also goes back to Incognito’s college days was his inability to control his emotions and anger, and not knowing where to draw the line on his actions. While some team members assumed that Martin and Incognito were good friends, friendships do sour, and so do marriages, business and family relationships.

“Adult bullies tend to be opinionated, judgmental, and coercive,” says Katherine Krefft, PhD, a practicing psychologist, “If a person repeatedly makes you feel intimidated or humiliated, you are probably dealing with a bully.” [Ref 2]

excluded-group-d-character-shows-bullying-showing-32075478One important fact that everyone should know about bullying is that they come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.  This includes professional and non-professional sports and the associated cast of characters.  Another fact: anyone can become a victim of bullying….including popular kids, adults, entertainers, restaurant workers, parents, siblings, etc. The person that is being bullied is selected as a target. Age becomes less of an issue or is totally irrelevant because the bully’s focus is on anyone who doesn’t fit the accepted norm. They also will bully others they feel threatened by or those who have something they want. This is where it gets tricky because the reason why someone bullies can be all over the map.

Another important fact that is relevant to the Martin-Incognito case is that usually there are witnesses to the bullying. That certainly appears to be a part of the alleged incidents that occurred inside of the Miami Dolphins locker room and perhaps on the field as well.

As a leader in your organization, how does one recognize an adult bully? Here are some characteristics. They [Ref 2]:

  • Abuse a position of power.
  • Repeatedly give undeserved criticism.
  • Use verbal or physical abuse.
  • Have excessive and unrealistic expectations.
  • Repeat insults or threats.
  • Abuse the rights and dignity of others.

backstabbing-27864073If you think you may be dealing with a bully or a bullying situation, it is especially important to acknowledge if the individual(s) has established a pattern of behavior that includes one or more of the above characteristics. Bullies have some if not all the characteristics of BAITERs (backstabbers, accusers, imposters, takers, exploiters, and reckless behavior). See my previous post on this topic,  BAITERs, Haters, & Social Climbers.

A message to each of my readers: If you’re constantly taunting others, enjoying other people’s discomfort, have trouble controlling destructive behavior, take out your anger on others, or have threatened other people, you could have a bullying problem. Other warnings signs include frequent lying and fighting. [Ref 2] Could Incognito have been a friend to Jonathan Martin? Yes, at least I assume their relationship started out that way. Mentor? Yes, we know that Incognito was assigned as Martin’s mentor. Bully? Unfortunately, it goes without saying that Incognito has a history of bullying.

Whether you are the bully or the bullied, it is important to recognize it and take steps to stop it. Bullies make a choice to target a particular person(s) and to act-out in certain ways. Just as one makes the choice to act a certain way, one also can make the choice to act differently or not to act at all!

Last but not least, if you are unable to control your actions and behavior on your own, professional counseling is highly recommended.


1. Timeline of Dolphins’ alleged bullying saga between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, USA TODAY Sports, December 17, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2013/11/07/richie-incognito-jonathan-martin-bullying-miami-dolphins/3466755/

2. “How to Deal With Adult Bullies”, Chris Iliades, MD December 27, 2011, http://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/how-deal-with-adult-bullies.aspx?source=dlp-pdr

3. Richie Incognito’s bully reputation goes back to 2002, Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY Sports, November 5, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2013/11/05/incognito-bully-accusations-nebraska-freshman/3439819/

4. “8 Facts About Bullying Everyone Should Know”, Sherri Gordon, http://bullying.about.com/od/Basics/a/8-Facts-About-Bullying-Everyone-Should-Know.htm, [last viewed: 12.19.2013]


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


5 thoughts on “Leaders: Friend? Mentor? or Bully?

  1. Nice blog here! And may your Christmas be also as special and unique as you are!


    Posted by Christopher | December 24, 2013, 9:12 pm
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    Posted by felix | December 25, 2013, 4:11 am


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