Bullying is no joke. And as the whole Richie Incognito–Jonathan Martin saga continues to unfold, we’re left with the realization that bullying is very much an issue in sports — even at the professional level.
Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell recently discussed the topic of bullying with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Howell, whose wife produced an anti-bullying book for children, said that he was bullied as a kid and as a rookie in the league. He also revealed that rookie phenom Yasiel Puig endured bullying in the Dodgers’ clubhouse this past season.
Howell didn’t reveal many details when it came to Puig being bullied. There were no names listed or antics described in Shaikin’s story, leaving us to wonder to what extent the 22-year-old outfielder was really bullied. If there is truth to Howell’s account, however, there was at least some rookie hazing that went on in Los Angeles.
“The guy is such a champion,” Howell reportedly said of Puig. “He has such a big heart. Sometimes, he acts like a jerk, but that is his defense mechanism. It’s not really him.
“Someday, he is not going to be 22. He’s not going to be like that. I love the guy. I hope he never changes, just maybe matures.”
Howell was a bit more candid about his own bullying experience. The 30-year-old said that he had a suit — which was a gift from his father — shredded and not replaced during his rookie campaign. It’s unclear whether Howell’s experience came while he was with the Royals in 2005 or Rays in 2006, but it’s very clear that the incident(s) left a mark on the left-hander.
“I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” Howell reportedly said. “I wish I would have. I was distracted. I was scared to be around him in the gym. If you’re intimidated by somebody because of their actions, that’s bullying.”
One of the biggest issues with bullying in sports is that it’s often the result of rookie hazing — a long-time practice within the landscape — going too far. Howell said that the difference between the two lies in one’s ability to say, “no,” while also feeling a sense of comfort upon doing so.
For what it’s worth, we shouldn’t expect any beanballs from Howell going forward. The veteran reliever made it clear that he thinks such a practice is just another form of bullying.
“When he’s throwing at someone’s head, you could be going to be a funeral,” Howell reportedly said. “To me, that’s a bully. He might be a great guy. But, on the baseball field, that is wrong.”
Bullying has always been a problem. And when it comes to sports, the whole Incognito-Martin situation might only be a small sample of what’s really going on.