On Workplace Harassment, the Dolphins Make Me Cry

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I've had my share of rotten bosses. I've even been run out of jobs by employers who didn't have the good sense to just fire me.

But Richie Incognito apparently took it to the next level.

For those who aren't into sports, Incognito, 30, allegedly harassed one Jonathan Martin, 24, to the point where Martin quit his job. Once people learned of all this, Incognito lost his job. As a result of this, a third man may soon find himself running for his life.

The innocent bystander drilled by all this is 25-year-old Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill's job is to play quarterback for the Miami Dolphins professional football team, for whom the other two gentlemen were, until this week, nearly half of his offensive line.

According to Incognito, he was told to "toughen up" Martin, a sensitive soul who played his college ball at Stanford. According to some analysts who are former players, this is not unusual. It's a man's game, a physical game, a brutal game, so a little Marine Corps tearing down and building up is part of the process.

The problem, for these analysts, is Incognito allegedly took it a little too far, shaking Martin down for a Las Vegas vacation and leaving violent, racist voicemail messages. They are also saying Martin should have taken the problem up with the team's veteran leadership, although Incognito was one of those veterans.

Obviously what we have here, as actor Strother Martin said so memorably in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, is "a failure to communicate."

This a good jumping-off point for our discussion. A National Football League locker room is not an ordinary workplace. It is, like a southern chain gang or a Marine boot camp, a world of its own in which minds and hearts must be changed to fit the task at hand.

One difference is that even in a chain gang you know who the captain is. That wasn't the case here. Technically, Incognito and Martin were colleagues. Unlike a boot camp, the harassment went on after work. It was as though drill sergeant were following the shavetail back home on leave, only the shavetail didn't even know the drill sergeant was his sergeant.

Every workplace has informal rules, one of them being that what goes on at work stays at work. The Dolphins, who employed both these men, never gave either one of them proper supervision.

Incognito, who has a long history as a bully, obviously thought he had carte blanche to "toughen up" Martin, whose years at Stanford never prepared him for what came his way.

Martin, whose Stanford degree is in classics, also didn't need the aggravation. He has career options, including possibly law school, of which Incognito could never dream.

As I said, I've been harassed at times by co-workers. I had an editor who insisted on completely rewriting my copy and grew angry with me when what came out was worse than what went in. I had bosses who once left me at a trade show booth, alone and without any collateral to hand out, along with two editorial deadlines each day.

I also know what I did in the face of this. I begged the editor to keep me around. I stayed at my job. I did what Martin did because I love writing almost as much as he loves football, and I couldn't see it turning against me like that.

The only answer, as I said, is communication. The NFL and its players need to codify, in writing, what until now has been unwritten. They need to get both these men the help they need to go forward in their lives, both now and beyond football.

They also need to send this message out to everyone: Bullying is wrong, and anyone can be bullied. Especially in the workplace, where young workers want to succeed and are looking to everyone around them for leadership and guidance.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.