Big Bully

The apparent relentless bullying of Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin has to be one of the weirdest sports stories in years.

Martin — an offensive lineman who is 6′ 5″ and weighs more than 300 pounds — left the Dolphins abruptly after enduring the hazing and harassing behavior of his own teammates.  New stories about the incident indicate that Martin was browbeaten into paying $15,000 so other Miami players could take a trip to Las Vegas and that another Dolphins player physically threatened Martin and used racial epithets in phone messages to him.  The other player, guard Richie Incognito, has a history of bad behavior and seems to be fighting a losing battle with a horde of inner demons.  Incognito’s recorded message to Martin is inexcusably racist and vile, and he has been suspended by the Dolphins.

It’s weird to think that a man as big as Martin could be bullied, but when a bunch of other very large and violent men are the actors it’s not hard to see how bullying could reach a point where a player would just quit rather than trying to tolerate more abuse.  It’s also weird to think that supposed teammates would be hurting their own team by tormenting a highly regarded player to the point where he would quit, but apparently the Dolphins coaching staff and the front office ignored the growing problem.  Now they’ve lost two players, and it’s hard to believe that the remaining team members aren’t shaken and second-guessing everyone’s role in the incident.

I’ve always believed that, as a normal-sized unathletic person, I can’t appreciate what it would be like, physically, to be a super-sized elite athlete playing in the NFL.  The strange Jonathan Martin story makes me think that I can’t really understand what it would be like emotionally to play on an NFL team, either.  I feel sorry for Martin, and the whole incident makes me lose some respect for the National Football League.  The NFL is great at marketing its product and trying to depict players as wonderful role models.  How much of that is phony?  How many troubled giants like Richie Incognito are terrorizing NFL locker rooms?

The Network Issue

Another area in which the Affordable Care Act will have an impact on health care in America is beginning to get some attention.  It has to do with the “provider networks” — that is, the collection of doctors, hospitals, and other health care facilities and personnel being offered by some of the new insurance plans.

The Affordable Care Act posed some difficult challenges for insurers.  Under the statute, they were required to include a number of new, mandatory forms of coverage in their health care plans.  That requirement, obviously, limited the ability of insurers to control the costs of particular plans by tailoring the kinds of care covered by those plans.  But the insurers still need to figure out a way to control costs, because their plans need to be competitively priced.

There aren’t a lot of remaining cost-control options. One is to tinker with things like co-payments and deductibles and increase the non-premium payments that the insureds must make when they use health care.  Another is to limit the networks to particular health care providers who, due to location or contractual agreement or some other consideration, are offering health care at lower prices than their competitors.

That’s the gist of an article in the Wall Street Journal by a cancer patient whose existing policy has been canceled and who can’t find a substitute policy that includes all of the providers that have given her the unique combination of care that has allowed her to beat the odds and survive.  It’s an indication of the kind of long-term effects that will play out over time, as the Affordable Care Act reshapes the health care market.  In the individual market, at least, Americans who are used to going to whichever doctor and hospital they choose may need to change their habits — and they probably won’t be very happy about it.