Ted Wells Report: A Culture Gone Wrong

The official report on the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito case isn’t an indictment of the NFL locker room as a whole, but a case study in what can happen when it’s left to operate without restraints or mature leadership

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·
Jonathan Martin, seen here after meeting with Ted Wells in New York in November. (John Minchillo/AP)
Jonathan Martin, seen here after meeting with Ted Wells in New York in November. (John Minchillo/AP)

One of the most telling lines in the Ted Wells report on the departure of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin from the Dolphins last season was this: “As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace.”

No, it is not. NFL locker rooms and practice fields are vile and vulgar places. Sure, they clean up a little when the media is let in, but that’s only for 45 minutes four days a week during the regular season. Players spend countless more hours together during which just about anything goes. Most of the behavior the media doesn’t see—the foul language, the harassment, the crude jokes—would get normal people fired on the spot.

Fallout From Wells Report

What did we learn? It was more than just Richie Incognito harassing Jonathan Martin, punishment will be widespread and locker-room culture will never be the same, Jenny Vrentas writes. FULL STORY

But it does serve a purpose. It brings teammates closer together. They become like brothers who fight among themselves and take low blows at each other when the parents aren’t around. It seems strange to the general public, but there is a form of team bonding when 20-year-olds make jokes at each other’s expense or poke fun at each other’s physical appearance. I can’t really explain why or how, but it happens.

Still, there’s a very large however that goes along with that, as the Wells report makes clear: “We also recognize that good-spirited goading often contributes to team bonding,” the report read. “But limits should exist.”

The line has to do with racist and family jokes and, more importantly, the frequency of such jokes. It’s one thing to say something crude once in a while, but it’s quite another for Martin to endure, as the report states, two weeks of sexual jokes about his sister, and for chief instigator/mean girl Richie Incognito and toadies Mike Pouncey and John Jerry to make the abuse seem neverending.

It’s not unusual for lines to be crossed in a locker room, but when they are typically one of two things occurs to get people back in line:

1) The player at the epicenter takes matters into his own hands and shuts the bully up with the only language some people understand: a swift punch to the face; or 2) locker room leaders take command and put the bully in his place.

Martin did not have it in him to take matters into his own hand, as he admitted to his mother in a text message. “I’m never gonna change,” he wrote. “I got punked again today. . . . And I never do anything about it.”

The Dolphins should have known what they were getting in Richie Incognito. (Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI)
The Dolphins should have known what they were getting in Richie Incognito. (Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI)

It is not a crime to be the type of person who avoids confrontations, even in a profession that is so much about brawn and aggression. Players can function in the NFL—or should be able to—even if they don’t score highly on the Neanderthal scale. You can be a gentle giant away from the field but become something different between the lines.

Most locker rooms, which are filled with professionals and smart players who can appreciate each other’s differences, let that type of person be. If he wants to be by himself, or if he doesn’t want to be a party to the pranks and the boorishness, fine. Even with an offensive line, a unit wholly different from any other position group because its play is more interdependent on teammates, there is room for a perceived loner who needs to be treated differently from the rest.

If, that is, the leaders are capable of leaping such a low bar of tolerance.

And that was the problem with the Dolphins.

Based on some of the interactions detailed in the report, it seems the rest of the Miami locker room was perfectly mature, realized some line-crossing was done with Martin and offered to accommodate him. And at Martin’s college, Stanford, which is traditionally made up of some of the smartest and socially accepting students and athletes, he seemed to live a happy existence.

But the Dolphins offensive line was different. Martin was sensitive about his poor performances, and the report states that he had bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts in high school. Other NFL players have battled psychological and mental health issues, but Martin had to do so in an environment of non-stop harassment.

That’s what you get when you sign Richie Incognito and allow him to become the de facto leader of his position group. As his college and early pro record amply shows, Incognito was and will always be a bully without a filter, with a frequent disregard for other people’s feelings. “Tornado,” some called him according to the Wells report, for his penchant for flying off the handle.

“We repeatedly heard him described as loud, aggressive and boisterous, with little sense of social boundaries—someone who was constantly making boorish jokes and getting in his teammates’ faces, more so than other players, and frequently more than was welcome,” the report read.

That might as well have come from any scouting report ever written about Incognito. Everyone in the league knows who he was and what he was about. And this is the man the Dolphins allowed to rule the roost with the offensive line? What did they think was going to happen? It’s one thing to have a player like Incognito on your team, even elected into a position of power. But you better make darn sure that you’re keeping close tabs on how he’s conducting himself and treating others. The Dolphins completely failed in that regard, and they should take some of the blame for what happened to Martin. They brought Incognito in and did nothing to head off the problems that have always surrounded him. Former general manager Jeff Ireland, coach Joe Philbin and offensive line coach Jim Turner all take serious hits for that. (According to the report, another Dolphins offensive lineman was repeatedly subject to homophobic insults by his linemates, and Turner, as a joke Christmas gift, gave that player a male blow-up doll; that would probably have been Turner’s undoing even before this week’s Michael Sam news.)

Unfortunately it took Martin’s victimization for the NFL to realize it needs to draw clearer lines and provide more education concerning how a locker room should function.

As the Wells report says, the issue of Martin’s harassment, and his victimhood, is complicated. Martin himself engaged in his share of curious and contradictory behavior. He socialized regularly with the men who were harassing him and cultivated a friendship with Incognito, the ring-leader. In May 2013, after a series of incidents that troubled Martin, he sank into a deep depression and spoke about it with Turner. The report notes that both Turner and Philbin showed genuine concern for Martin’s well-being and wanted to help, but that Martin never told them about the harassment that was at the root of his emotional distress, because he didn’t want to violate the locker room “code” that players shouldn’t “snitch” on their teammates. I understand that such reluctance is common among people in Martin’s position, but when you think you’ve run out of options, don’t you throw a Hail Mary? If Martin had fully opened up to Turner or Philbin at the time, the Dolphins might have addressed the issue right there. Instead it festered for another six months.

Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of this sordid story. I truly believe that what Martin went through will be for the betterment of the NFL. Unfortunately it took Martin’s victimization for the NFL to realize that it needs to draw clearer lines and provide more education concerning how a locker room should function. Even Incognito, who should never play in the NFL again, might see his name used for something good. Maybe in NFL and college locker rooms in the the future you’ll hear someone say, “Come on, man, don’t Incognito that guy. That’s not cool.” It will serve to remind others that while, yeah, vulgar stuff goes on in locker rooms to bring guys together—things that would be horrific to the general public—each person has his limit, and everyone has to respect it.

NICKEL PACKAGE

1. I don’t even know what to say about the news that former Packers, Vikings and Saints safety Darren Sharper has been charged with drugging and raping two women in Los Angeles, and that prosecutors will seek to up his bail to $10 million because he faces similar allegations three other states. I never interacted with Sharper, so I never formed a personal opinion about him, but he seemed well put together. Just another reminder, as with Aaron Hernandez, that appearances aren’t what they seem for anybody, not just NFL players. I feel terrible for the alleged victims.  

The $44 million man. (Carlos M. Saavedra/The MMQB)
The $44 million man. (Carlos M. Saavedra/The MMQB)

2. Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Daily broke the news on Friday that commissioner Roger Goodell made $44.2 million in the last fiscal year. Last year, when it was announced that he had made $30 million, agents and players were shocked. Goodell earned $11.5 million the year before the new 2011 collective bargaining agreement was signed. The new CBA made sure to cut the pay of first-round draft picks. We see where some of the savings are going.

3. Fun fact that may only interest me: When Mike Lombardi was fired as a personnel man by Cleveland before the 1996 draft, as the Browns became the Ravens, his worked helped leave Baltimore with the fourth and 26th pick in the first round. This week Lombardi was fired by the Browns again, along with team president Joe Banner, and in this year’s draft Cleveland has the fourth pick (its own) and 26th overall (from the Trent Richardson trade). In Baltimore in ’96, Ozzie Newsome drafted one Hall of Famer at 4 (Jonathan Ogden) and one future Hall of Famer at 26 (Ray Lewis). Your move, Ray Farmer.

4. No surprise that Lombardi is set to join the Patriots and friend Bill Belichick as a senior personnel executive, as reported by Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe. Before landing back in the NFL with the Browns, Lombardi served as a casual personnel consultant to Belichick.

5. Loved what Seahawks free-agent end Michael Bennett said on NFL Network: “There is no such thing as discount. This is not Costco, this is not Walmart – this is real life . . . . You have a family so you want to be in the best situation for them. . . . It’s definitely a business, and people hate to say that it’s that, but it is what it is. I would love to play for the Seahawks, but they would have to want me back and the numbers have to be right.” If it’s okay for teams to make a business decision in cutting players, then it should be just fine when a player who has leverage maximizes his value.

mmqb-end-slug-square

59 comments
giwan1259
giwan1259

Wells report over blown BS. 

mdamulligan
mdamulligan

Mike Vick kills dogs, gambles and tires his hand at being a gansta, allowed back. Dante Stallworth kills a guy, drunk driving, allowed back. Big Ben, 2 count that again 2 rapes, allowed back. Greg goes on to write that Richie should never be allowed to play another NFL down...WTF???? Sure things got out of control but this wanting to hang a man for his locker room actions is just pathetic. If that is the case all the coaches should never be allowed to coach again and the dolphins should fold, which they basically have done since Marino retired.

Nonfantasylandman
Nonfantasylandman

I can't stand when these journalistic wet dream stories come out. All these journalists hope for is something as easy as this story to come out or of a gay player who is labeled a hero for coming out even though its 2014 and for the most part society doesn't really care anymore. Please Mr. "Journalists", stand on top of your soap box and pat yourself on your back for finding the lazy stories all the time, act like this culture is consistent, but never find the effort to talk about 90% of the players who are really good people and are well aware of others

rsrobin76
rsrobin76

To those who think that Incognito-style locker room bullying is necessary to toughen up young players, here's what one team does:

-has a head coach who preaches positive thought and action and doesn't allow assistant coaches to berate or demean players in front of teammates

-prides itself on finding positive players with a sense of accountability rather than entitlement

-holds regular yoga and meditation sessions for players

-has an entire staff dedicated to helping players, including a sports psychologist on staff to counsel players

-places an emphasis on helping its rookies transition to the NFL

-monitors diet and sleep patterns of players to help maximize performance

-features organic fruit and free range chicken in its dining room

-allows rock and hip hop music in the locker room, on the practice field, and even in team meetings

So who is this wussified, New Age team? The Seattle Seahawks. Do they strike anyone as a team lacking psychological or physical toughness?

Tarynfor12
Tarynfor12

I have a hard time accepting that 'any' player from 'any' college going into the NFL would/could be so blind to what lays ahead for them in the 'carnivore' confines of the locker room. 


This is like a boxer entering the ring with no idea that he will be punched.


I do not condone the slurs unleashed against ones parents or siblings or any relative but,getting one to obtain or maintain an edge(nasty) so many writers,players ,fans state is a must,can be achieved minus some of which has been noted in this case.


IMO,to succeed in life in any field,one better understand defense before rushing forward in blind offense.Martin had no defensive skills and his attempt to be as offensive as the other(s),left him getting beaten from both.


Many want the NFL locker rooms made to resemble a 'bed of roses'...even something as beautiful looking as that will have thorns inflicting pain and un-welcomed discomfort,and it should be made clear to any kid wanting to enter into it.

JoelHardman
JoelHardman

I don't buy the argument that NFL locker rooms need to be vulgar and childish.  That sort of argument has been made about many workplaces, until we decide not to tolerate this nonsense.

chris109
chris109

Something is not right here. I seriously don't think Richie Incognito could walk around freely using racial slurs on a team loaded with big powerful Black Men. I'm a Black man, 6'2, 235lbs, nowhere near the size of Richie Incognito but he would only get a racial slur towards me out his mouth once and I would have destroyed his skull with the nearest heavy object!

Martin is an absolute WUSS!!! and an embarrassment to himself and his family!  he knew he couldn't "Man up" in the NFL and took the cowards way out and will now retire rich once his lawsuit against the Dolphins and the NFL drops....and trust me greedy lawyers whispering in his ear are telling him to sue.

Martin...if you read this...your a coward of the worst kind!   You could have fixed this problem yourself and gained respect in the locker room and from Richie Incognito had you punched him in the jaw first time he disrespected you.  Your nothing more than 300lbs of chewed bubble gum!!!!

DSM
DSM

Once you read about Incognito assaulting a woman at a golf tournament, yet apparently not being fined, suspended or cut by either the Dolphins or the NFL, on top of his being thrown out of 2 colleges, it is hard to take his lawyer's denials seriously.

gary41
gary41

The Wells report was notable in 3 respects.  Workplace abuse was directed towards Martin and others, including one of the trainers.  The organization was aware of certain incidents, even contributing to them, but failed to make the proper connection with workplace abuse and did nothing.  The NFL is not a normal workplace.  The major difference between the Dolphins and other teams is someone like Incognito would never be placed in charge of anything. 

orangecuse15
orangecuse15

This is what happens when people who have no interest in sports turn a sports story into something that has nothing to do with sports. The NFL did its best to deflect any blame from themselves in the eye of the public and this is the result. Wussification of society at its finest. It only became a problem after 6 months of throwing it in our face.

arizonaedo
arizonaedo

Martin knew he wasn't going to make it in the NFL and he got lawyered up by his mother.  Mom didn't know that he's a pot head and he participated in the same juvenile locker room behavior that Incognito did.  It's just team mates talking smack until you play the political correct card to your advantage.  Johnathan Martin is scum and he will never be trusted again by any team mate.   

themekons
themekons

the whole affair, like the steroid story in baseball, represents a complete failure of journalism.  assuming this sort of thing is as rampant as everyone is now pointing out, where were you journalists all these years? if this is as endemic as it now appears, why was there no reporting on this? - Peter King and his ilk have seemingly unlimited access but they had no idea this was going on?  and now you're outraged?

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

I’ve read Wells’ 144-page report in its entirety, and, in my judgment, one of the most significant parts is Section 10 of the Executive Summary entitled, “Martin Never Reported the Abuse to the Dolphins Organization.”The last paragraph of that section, in particular, is insightful and provides the most important teaching moment to this whole unfortunate affair.I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to the question of why Jonathan Martin did not report this matter to Head Coach Joe Philbin and/or the Dolphins’ front office.

TherealdanMcKelvey
TherealdanMcKelvey

Incog is the freakiest dude we have encountered in 40 years...Look at his resume...Kicked out of two universities, kicked out of St. Louis, assaults a woman at a golf tournament, and on and on.....And yet, he will find a job in the NFL.....Martin's lawsuit against the Fins and the NFL will knock the socks off of both parties.....

BleedPinstripes1
BleedPinstripes1

We often here the terms warrior, brotherhood and combat regarding NFL athletes.  That alone is a tragic misrepresentation.  Units in the armed forces - where men and women - live and die alongside each other understand the sacred meaning of such terms.  Incognito's behavior would've been dealt with swiftly and harshly within the ranks of an operational  unit.  Those around Martin failed to exercise strength and leadership.  The strongest individual will protect a man who can not protect himself - that's the key to being a warrior.


Mr. Incognito just needs focus and guidance.


Rickapolis
Rickapolis

If Richie Incognito is allowed to play another down in the NFL it will be yet another failure of Roger-44.2 million a year-Goodell. Gee, what do you think will happen?

ianlinross
ianlinross

Martin is a Stanford guy and he had enough brains to walk out of that place.

What's disappointing is Joe Philbin came from the Packers where Ted Thompson tries to acquire guys with good character. I'm guessing there was a Grand Canyon of different in philosophy between Philbin and his dumpster diving GM.

pirate
pirate

@Nonfantasylandman What? Are you saying the release of the Wells report WASN'T a story? You're high dude. You're nuts.

ArchMage
ArchMage

@rsrobin76 So why do they seem to have a PED problem? 3 out of 26 suspensions in 2013, or almost 12%.  Not t mention demeaning opponents on national TV, even after discussing it with coaches.....

Dumptruck
Dumptruck

@rsrobin76   I think Rog ought to reach into his $44M pockets and pay for all those things for all the other teams so they all can get hip with that program!

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@Tarynfor12  So how would you handle Richie Incognito and his toadies harrassing you from Day 1 in your new employment opportunity?

decredico
decredico

@JoelHardman  problem is, most work places are full of adults... football locker rooms are full of not-fully matured boy-men

pirate
pirate

@chris109 Cannot take your remarks seriously. As long as we live in a world where some people – maybe a lot of people – assume violence and destroying someone's skull is a reasonable response to verbal taunts, we've got a bigger problem than an NFL locker room.

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@chris109  You would have destroyed his skull?  You mean, like killing him?  Where in the hell would that get you?  Good luck in prison.

pirate
pirate

@orangecuse15   No, it's a problem, period. There have been plenty of successful – by which I mean Super Bowl winning – teams that said, "There's not going to be any rookie hazing here," "That's not how we do things," "It's hard enough to make an NFL roster, let's not make it harder with a bunch of bull that has nothing to do with football." Tony Dungy. Mike Holmgren, Bill Walsh. All of them hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Go ahead, call their teams "wusses." You can be tough, you can be successful, without turning into a subhuman cretin like Incognito – who needs to be excused from the league until he shows he's learned that his kind of knuckle-dragging BS isn't tolerated in human society.

decredico
decredico

@orangecuse15  you have serious mental health problems .... get help now before you hurt yourself or some innocent person

Cool
Cool

@arizonaedo  Speaking of mothers "lawyering up" I think you should advise your mother that what she did with me and 5 of my friends shouldn't be legal, but we all sure as heck loved it.  Her bedroom door was like a revolving door(among other things) with men going in and out as she yelled out for more.  Hey, I got an idea.. why don't you invite some of your co workers over, I am sure she is hot for another wild night.. and then all your co workers can talk and joke for the next year about how good she was.  We couldn't get her to talk about having a daughter, so if you have a sister, please let her know we all are betting she will be even hotter than mommy.

decredico
decredico

@themekons  ah see, there is the mistake: peter king is not a journalist!  he is a water carrier and errand boy for the league, their chief of propaganda

pirate
pirate

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan Don't forget that Incognito was a member of the team's "leadership council." He was an official team leader, so clearly in his mind, Incognito's boorish actions were sanctioned by the team. Why would he think the coaching staff that designated his tormenter a "leader" would listen to him?

MikeMapel
MikeMapel

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan Make this simple for you.  If Martin sees a superior, a coach, treating Player A homophobically, you can logically conclude that Martin, at that point, learns that management must support the behavior, because management is leading the behavior.  Martin reports to his boss who demonstrated that it was okay to bully people.  The end.

Jay38
Jay38

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan Actually, it does address that quite clearly.  The locker room did not condone "snitching", going so far to fine players who even so much as blamed another guy for missing a block.  Martin feared his situation would worsen if he spoke up.  And given the fact that a coach participated in the harassment of another player, it is reasonable for him to be hesitant to go to others.


As well, the victims of bullies often fail to notify authority figures.  Many believe they somehow deserve the treatment.  If you had any inkling as to the mental anguish suffered by the bullied, maybe you'd have a better understanding why Martin failed to go to team employees.

AnthonyPatterrson
AnthonyPatterrson

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan  Ask an ex-con or current inmate "Why didn't you tell the guards or the warden what they were doing to you?" Coaches don't even own the locker room, what were they going to do? How could Martin come back after running to the coach? He tried to deal with it, there's no handbook on how any person would deal with this type of situation. As said many times, by the players themselves,  " you don't understand the NFL locker room".

pirate
pirate

@TherealdanMcKelvey Incognito will not play at least this year, and I'll be surprised if he ever plays again. As for suing, I don't think he's got a leg to stand on. No one has a "right" to play in the NFL, and the CBA puts the league in charge of discipline. I just don't see it happening.

mystafugee
mystafugee

@BleedPinstripes1  Agreed, it's fishy how the report let management off the hook.  Guys Incognito should be punished but management has to set the tone.  

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@ianlinross  I believe Incognito was in Miami before Philbin arrived.  But Philbin was there when they signed him to a 4 year contract.  Incognito's character issues were on the table but the Dolphins failed to include the one strike clause that Incognito had to agree to when first signed by Miami to a 1 year contract following his ouster at St. Louis.  But he resumed his boorish off-field behavior and should have been released after his assault of the black woman at the charity golf tournament.  I think clean slate the coaching staff even though I think Philbin is a good man but he is the man in charge of his team.  The responsibility is his.

pirate
pirate

@ArchMage @rsrobin76 Only one player now on the Seahawk roster has a PED suspension, which we hope will be a wakeup call for him. The rest of your rant is silly. There's a big difference between post game trash talking and consistent, long-term institutional (Incognito was an official team "leader") bullying. If you don't see it, there may be a problem with your upbringing.

pirate
pirate

@Cool @arizonaedo  C'mon guys, both of you, get your minds out of the gutter. It's exactly this kind of BS, "I'm tougher than you," "You're soft," "Your momma" crap that this was all about. Both of you knock it off and grow up. Jeez.

orangecuse15
orangecuse15

@Jay38 @Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan  You act like people on here have never been dealt with bullies before. It's a part of life for crying out loud. I've seen middle schoolers that make Richie Incognito look like a decent guy. 

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@orangecuse15:  That's the second inane post you made on this site.  Apparently no one stood up to Incognito at every level he has played on but has been tossed now by his fourth team.  The only thing that will stop this mentality that Incognito has is to drum him out of the NFL for good.  You need to just stop commenting like a total idiot.  And the middle schooler you mentioned has got to be you.

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