Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2014 | News

It Happens Everywhere

By Kathryn Howe

Bullying is not an issue contained to the classroom. The behavior occurs everywhere power dynamics exist, from the workplace to the NFL locker room.

According to a recent Career Builder Survey, as many as 35 percent of American workers report they've felt bullied at work. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines the phenomenon as repeated, harmful harassment that can include verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating, or offensive behaviors; and work sabotage. While employment protections exist for workers who belong to a certain race, sex, disability, or whistle-blowing class, most employees have few options for recourse. Many simply quit their jobs and look for employment elsewhere.

Although the National Football League is not a typical office environment, one high-profile case last year dramatically highlighted the issue of workplace bullying. Miami Dolphins starting offensive lineman Jonathan Martin (pictured) claimed he'd suffered persistent harassment that led to his abrupt departure midway through the season. An official NFL investigation concluded that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line engaged in a pattern of harassment—including racial and homophobic slurs, sexual taunts, and improper physical touching—aimed at Martin, another young offensive lineman, and an assistant trainer. The report resulted in the firing of the Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner and head trainer Kevin O'Neill for going against the "core values" of the organization.

Since then, the NFL has taken steps to create an atmosphere of respect and tolerance. In an editorial just last month, the New York Times suggests this will require a shift in society's expectations for athletes: "It was not so long ago that accounting firms and law offices excused sexual harassment as boys-will-be-boys high jinks. But in recent years, most workplaces have tried hard to move beyond the vulgarity and aggressiveness of the Mad Men days, and certainly beyond racial animosities. Locker rooms should do the same."