J.P. Howell talked with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times yesterday about bullying, which has been a hot topic in sports lately due to the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito/Miami Dolphins ongoing saga.
Howell talked about his own experiences with bullying and then discussed it in the context of sports, in general.
Howell grew up to be a baseball player, but he was bullied as a kid. He was different, at an age when different is not necessarily good.
“I was smaller. I was odd. I was energetic,” he said. “They didn’t like that. They would try to put me down. If they couldn’t do it mentally, they would do it physically. It never stops. It’s every single day.”
Those words were sad to hear but not terribly surprising. These words, on the other hand, were jarring: “I still get bullied.”
He scoffed at the suggestion that the professional sports locker room is such a unique workplace that intimidation of teammates and racist voice mails can be explained — if not accepted — within that context.
“There is definitely a code,” Howell said. “There is a line that has to be drawn too, and you can’t cross that line. I don’t know what is cool and appropriate in football. What I heard in that voice mail is not going on in baseball.
“That’s never going to be OK. I think the league should put a stop to it. Even if it’s accepted in the NFL, it shouldn’t be accepted.”
Then he talked about bullying in the context of a baseball clubhouse, but the surprising reveal was that he specifically pointed out Yasiel Puig as a victim.
In the clubhouse, Howell said he had no problem with the tradition of directing a rookie pitcher to carry gum and sunflower seeds to the bullpen in a little girl’s backpack. He had a huge problem, he said, with pressure in some clubhouses to party and drink late into the night.
“You have to know that you can say no and you’ll be all right,” Howell said.
When he broke into the major leagues, he owned one suit, a gift from his father. A veteran player — Howell would not identify him — cut up the suit and did not replace it.
“I didn’t know how to handle the situation,” Howell 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.”
Howell said he saw Yasiel Puig bullied in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, though he would not discuss who was involved, or what happened to Puig.
“The guy is such a champion,” Howell said. “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.”
I guess this got sort of lost in the MVP discussion yesterday, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard an active baseball player admit that guys in a clubhouse that he was a part of during the year bullied another player. But Howell did just that when he talked about Puig and his adjustments to the MLB.
For Puig’s place, nothing Howell said really surprises me. I’ve always had the impression that he basically acts like a kid and thus annoys some by doing stuff for attention at times. And I had heard there were some within the clubhouse that were unhappy with him, but never that he was a victim of over-the-line abuse, as Howell so clearly stated.
Judging by the reaction thus far, I’m guessing this story will die and be forgotten. But it’s interesting to me, because Puig adjusting and learning is integral to the success of the Dodgers, and I doubt it’s the best thing for his progress if he feels uncomfortable and/or threatened in a place that is not only his new clubhouse/team but also his new country.
Either way, I’m guessing that by revealing this Howell doesn’t think he’ll be returning to the Dodgers.