Circle: Bullying in the NFL

In this Circle activity, students consider what "bullying" means, learn about the controversy over bullying in the Miami Dolphins, respond to a variety of statements about this controversy, and consider how we can stand up to bullying. 

To the teacher: 

This activity is structured as a "Circle," an approach Morningside Center is introducing in many schools. Please see An Introduction to Circles for a full description of this process, including an explanation of such terms as "center piece" and "talking piece."   The lesson can also be adapted to work in classrooms that don't use the Circle approach.


Opening Ceremony

Ask students to think of one word they connect with bullying.  Ask them to write it on an index card and place it around the center piece.  Take a few moments for so that everyone can look at the words on the index cards.  
Send the talking piece around, asking students to share what they notice about the words.  Send the talking piece around again, asking students to come up with a definition for bullying. 
When coming up with a definition, make sure to address the following:
Three characteristics combined set bullying apart from other behaviors. (One of these actions in isolation doesn't necessarily constitute bullying.)

  • A deliberate intent to harm or disturb. This means intentionally hurting someone either physically or psychologically, despite the target's apparent distress. 
  • A pattern of repeated aggression, whether physical or otherwise.  Bullying is usually repeated by the same person or group of people or by different people over time.
  • A power imbalance that is either real or perceived.  Power can be physical, social, psychological, etc.  It may be perceived in that the target and allies have not yet understood their own power in the situation.


Miami Dolphins in the News

Send the talking piece around the circle of students, asking what they know about the Miami Dolphins football team being in the news since last week. 
Elicit and explain the following: 

Over the past week, disturbing reports have come out about what took place between two football players on the Miami Dophins:  24-year old Jonathan Martin and his 30-year old teammate Richie Incognito. Incognito, who has played with the Dolphins for eight years, allegedly harassed Jonathan Martin for months before the second-year pro decided he'd had enough.  Last Thursday, he walked off the team.  And though Incognito's name has featured most prominently in reports so far, other teammates appear to have been involved in the harassment as well.  
ESPN reports that "according to Martin's lawyer David Cornwell "Jonathan Martin has endured constant harassment, daily verbal attacks and even a ‘malicious physical attack' from teammates during his time with the Miami Dolphins. ... The statement also included an alleged vulgar quote from an anonymous teammate directed at Martin's sister [that could easily be interpreted as a threat]."  
Incognito reportedly made Martin shell out $15,000 to underwrite a junket to Las Vegas that Martin wasn't included in. But the event that convinced Martin to walk away from the team was almost too junior-high-school in its stupid cruelty to be believed: A group of players invited Martin to join them at their lunch table in the cafeteria, and then got up and left the moment he sat down. 

Send the talking piece around asking students for their reactions.

Quotes and Responses

Explain that you'll be reading out different reactions to the events that took place in Miami over the past months.  After every reaction you'll send the talking piece around, asking students for their thoughts and feelings.
Quote 1
This story also reminds us that we think of violence very differently depending on where, when and to whom it happens. ... While anti-bullying advocates applauded the way Martin handled the incident, lots of players called him a "coward" for his approach — while, ironically, requesting to remain anonymous.
Quote 2
You don't make it to the NFL if you're not mentally and physically tough. And when you have committed your life to football, as Martin has, you almost certainly don't walk away from a promising career with the Miami Dolphins unless you are being put through something truly hellish.
Quote 3
Some enlightened experts on NFL mores have blamed Martin, suggesting that he must have snapped. ‘You pull pranks nonstop in the locker room,' said Joe Rose, a former Dolphins tight end who's now a local radio host. "You know they're going to do stuff to you, you give it back. It's part of camaraderie, part of being with your group."
Quote 4
"There is a culture in the NFL that is hard to break into. If you don't fit into the mold, and the culture in the locker room, you won't last," another former NFL player who went to Stanford told Wire. "You do get a lot of respect ... because of your perceived intelligence, but you have to overcome a stigma that you may not be tough enough. Sometimes, in a gladiator sport like football, intelligence can be perceived as being soft."
Quote 5
A snarling, tattooed, 6-foot-3 dynamo, Incognito dominated opponents even as he stretched the boundaries of civil conduct during games and in everyday life. But whatever trouble Incognito encountered — and there were numerous scrapes with the law, with coaches and with teammates from New York to Oregon — there was always a football team that wanted him. In a game in which intimidation rules, coaches mostly prized Incognito's aggression and were willing to overlook his other problems.
If students haven't already done so, ask them to connect the quotes and their reactions so far to their own lives and life at school in particular. 


Taking a Stand

Quote 6
David Shaw, Martin's coach at Stanford, offered his support and expressed pride for his former player's willingness to take a stand.  "We do a pretty good job of educating our guys on what that next level is like, both the locker room and on the field and in the world," Shaw said. "We're talking about something that, as more comes out, we're finding out this is not just Jon being oversensitive, this is Jonathan being the first person to speak out about what's been going on." (Mercury News)  

Send the talking piece around again, asking students to share their thoughts and feelings on the coach's view that Martin was taking a stand. 

Send the talking piece around once more, asking students: In what ways could others take a stand, to support someone like Martin? What else could people do to take a stand when hearing about or witnessing bullying?  
Ask students to write on an index card these ways in which people could take a stand.  Place these index cards around the bullying words from before, creating a kind of barrier around bullying.


Closing Ceremony

Ask students to share one word about today's lesson.