Three months after Jonathan Martin walked away from the Miami Dolphins locker room saying he was bullied, the NFL’s independent investigator, Ted Wells, delivered his report on what happened there. You have read about the findings; I will summarize them here:
The bullies were Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry – all offensive linemen for the Dolphins.
Another young lineman, Andrew McDonald, was also the target for this group. McDonald is now with the Panthers.
An assistant trainer was harassed with racial threats/comments. According to the report, the head trainer knew of the harassment and laughed at the “jokes”.
The offensive line coach, Jim Turner, obviously knew about the harassment and joined in the fun to some extent giving McDonald a male inflatable doll as a present when all the other linemen got female inflatable dolls.
Martin did not report the bullying/harassment to the head coach, Joe Philbin, who seems to have been as aware of his surroundings as Inspector Clousseau.
Here is a link to the entire report. I have to warn you that the language and the actions described there are beyond disturbing and that I could not read all of the “full-strength version”; there were several sections where I just had to stop reading and skip to the next heading. With that warning, here is where you can see at least one aspect of one NFL locker room laid bare.
The conclusion of the report begins by saying:
“As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace.”
While I will stipulate that is entirely correct, I cannot get to the position that its deviation form “ordinary” justifies any of the behaviors described in the report. I suggest that the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University is “not an ordinary workplace” either; somehow, that entity has dodged any accusations similar to the ones described here. What this glimpse inside a locker room seems to indicate is that antisocial behavior – crossing over the borderline of “bizarre” – is sufficiently commonplace that much of the behavior can go unnoticed for a long time. If any of the verbal exchanges described in the report had happened in your local shopping mall such that other citizens overheard them, I suspect someone would have summoned the authorities.
Even if I were to believe completely the report’s assertion that none of the coaching staff other than the offensive line coaches knew anything at all about these behaviors, I would have to ask how the head coach can have a reputation as a “detail person” and not have heard anything about any of this for a period of a year and a half.
The report says that the Dolphins’ plans to improve their workplace conduct policies are “commendable”. Put that in context. After reading the report, try to think of organizations with inferior workplace conduct than what was demonstrated in this report. Yes, I know; workplace behaviors at Nazi concentration camps were a lot worse; that is not the point. Improvement here will not be difficult for the Dolphins to achieve. The plans are not “commendable” unless those plans produce – immediately – permanent positive changes there.
Greg Cote of the Miami Herald oversimplifies to be sure the basis of change that is needed, but captures much of the essence of what is needed:
“The NFL is considering a league-wide player code of conduct in the wake of the Dolphins’ Bullygate mess. Here is how I would write the code: ‘Do not get arrested and do not behave in the locker room like a bunch of towel-snapping middle schoolers.’ “
The cynic in me says that the author of this report knows who is paying for all of the billable hours that went into this document over the last 3+ months. That knowledge might make me take with a grain of salt the not-so-harsh conclusions regarding the team or the league.
The Dolphins have reportedly reached out to the Jackie Robinson Foundation and to the NYU Center for Sports and Society to prevent future bullying in the locker room. These groups along with special advisors to owner Stephen Ross are in the process of producing a new code of conduct for the Dolphins and new workplace initiatives to alleviate any future situations with the team. Here is part of a statement released by Stephen Ross:
“We are also exploring possible legislation and a conduct pledge that would be instituted in all organized sports throughout the country to elevate the core value of respect.”
I hope the same chill that ran down my spine ran down yours as you read that. He said, “exploring possible legislation … throughout the country”. That probably means adding the US Congress to this mess – and just at the point where you might think things had to get better than they are now.
Richie Incognito’s lawyer said that the report is “filled with inaccuracies” and that Jonathan Martin “was never bullied by Richie Incognito or any member of the Dolphins’ offensive line”. Unless Ted Wells got everything in this report wrong – down to the punctuation marks – here are two questions that Incognito’s lawyer needs to answer:
1. If this was not bullying, what would you call it?
2. What more would those folks have to have done to cross over into “bullying behavior”?
Based on the report, I think there is reason to question if Jonathan Martin and/or Richie Incognito will ever be employed in the NFL again. Martin’s psychological strength could be in question; Incognito’s psychological stability ought to be in question. By the way, if Richie Incognito does not continue with a career in pro football, he may just have a place as a “bad guy” in pro ‘rassling. Hey, it worked for Ernie Ladd…
Finally, I have a serious question that I would love to pose to Richie Incognito – and to the other folks who participated in the harassment of Jonathan Martin and Andrew McDonald and the unnamed assistant trainer:
Do you seriously believe that your behavior was merely a demonstration of your solidarity as teammates?
I ask that because if you do, I wonder how you can remember how to tie your shoes from one day to the next.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………