According to Suffolk University Law School Professor David Yamada, the commitment to create healthier workplaces for athletes on all levels must come from within the organizations themselves.

No Quick Fix

“It takes a multiplicity of forces coming together in a good way to prevent and respond to these behaviors,” Yamada admits, “but there’s no quick fix to any of this.”

Expert David Yamada

David Yamada, a tenured Professor of Law and Director of The New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying as well as host of the popular blog, Minding the Workspace.

Culture is Key

“Bullying does not occur in isolation,” Yamada states. “It usually is enabled and is sometimes encouraged by the culture of the organization—the profession or vocation that one is in.” “A lot of what we have to do in situations where there’s a specific allegation or concern, is just to find out what’s going on … to get the sense of that particular organization, it’s culture, and to find out what kind of opportunities there are to actually talk to and communicate with people,” Yamada says.

Effect Change

But where does change happen?

“It takes more enlightened leadership to send the message down,” Yamada acknowledges. “It’s hard for us to define (in the abstract) that line between toughness and bullying but at some point we cross the line and we go over into the side of it being abusive. And that’s what we have to look out for.”

So what dynamics can change within the organization to flush the system of the headlines we’ve been seeing?

“It’s a big picture question,” Yamada begins, “to really change this at a fundamental level, we almost have to revisit the question of ‘what is Division I sports all about?’ It really has to be a trickle-down thing that comes from the NCAA as well as the universities themselves.”

Coaches Can Be Part of the Problem

However, bullying doesn’t just happen within the dynamics of a team. Sometimes coaches get involved, too.

“It’s one thing to have a tough coach. It’s one thing to have a tough boss. It’s another thing to have an abusive coach or an abusive boss. And that appears to be that fault line that we’re seeing in these (coaching) situations.”

The common risk factors that set the stage for an abusive work environment inevitably lead toward bullying. “It’s built on aggression. It’s built on physical force. It’s built on intimidation,” Yamada says.

“But even with those qualities in mind, there’s a point at which the interpersonal behaviors can become abusive.”

One of the most recently studied issues is the domestic abuse allegation against Ray Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens.*

“The NFL is sort of a hyper example of what happens when culture trips that wire,” Yamada explains, “the behavior began to shine a light on a culture that had gone too far.”

Yamada explains that it is possible to identify the organizations that breed this behavior.

“We have to remember that research indicates that when you have an organization where there’s a lot of bullying-type behaviors, you’re also going to see other types of interpersonal aggression as well,” he states. “From sexual harassment to physical aggression at times… hostile organizations become a sort of powder keg ready to go off at times.”

Yamada believes that the pressure to win further generates negative, aggressive behavior among both college and professional athletes.

“Each situation has to be handled on its own but with a respect for the facts and the culture of that particular institution. It’s a matter of balance,” Yamada concludes.

Watch the entire interview: