Wilfredo Lee/AP
Wilfredo Lee/AP

The Fallout From The Ted Wells Investigation

The long-awaited report on the Dolphins' workplace environment is out. What was learned? It was more than just Richie Incognito harassing Jonathan Martin, punishment will be widespread and locker-room culture will never be the same

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

Page six of the 144-page report offers an acknowledgement of the uncharted road ahead.

“Many of the issues raised by this investigation,” reads lawyer Ted Wells’ anticipated report on workplace conduct at the Miami Dolphins, “appear to be unprecedented.”

During the more than four months since Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin suddenly walked away from the team in Week 9 of the regular season, a spotlight has been shined on a question that doesn’t have a clear answer: How, and in what ways, can locker-room culture be policed?

‘Pattern of harrassment’

The NFL-commissioned investigation about what happened on the Dolphins, assigned to Wells and the independent New York law firm for which he works, exposes that culture in a way that is jarring. The report assigns blame to three Dolphins offensive linemen—Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey—for a “pattern of harassment” directed not only at Martin, but also another young lineman and an assistant trainer on the team.

The evidence presented includes text messages and derogatory behavior of a racist, sexually explicit, homophobic or misogynistic nature—starting with the casual usage of the n-word, the see-you-next-Tuesday word and the f-word that is a homosexual slur. This comes at the end of a week when draft prospect Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay has sparked debate about how NFL locker rooms will handle their first publicly gay player.

Now, it’s up to the NFL and the Dolphins to act. But how?

Bountygate-like punishment?

A Culture Gone Wrong

The Martin-Incognito case isn’t an indictment of the NFL locker room as a whole, Greg Bedard writes, but a case study in what can happen when it’s left to operate without restraints or mature leadership. FULL STORY

The Wells report focused on deconstructing Martin’s reasons for leaving the team during his second NFL season, and made its only recommendation in the conclusion. It advocates the creation of “new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.” But for any future policy to carry weight (the Dolphins, in 2013, distributed a policy against harassment the offending players had signed off on) the NFL and the Dolphins certainly understand the time is now to make a stand.

And while there is no precedent for handling the specific issues presented in this case, the NFL has demonstrated—Bountygate in New Orleans being the clearest example—that commissioner Roger Goodell is not afraid of harsh punishment to spur a culture change. That case might also be the closest precedent in terms of the scope of active players and coaches who might be affected.

Pouncey is under contract with the Dolphins; Incognito and Jerry are both free agents, so the ground-level of their punishment might very well be teams electing not to sign them. Currently on the Dolphins staff are offensive line coach Jim Turner, who is depicted in the report as enabling and encouraging harassment between his players, and head trainer Kevin O’Neill, who allegedly did not intervene at the racial insults directed toward the Asian-American assistant trainer. Head coach Joe Philbin played a role in getting Martin help from a psychiatrist when he learned of his depression and mental health issues, but his purported oblivion to what was happening in the locker room reflects poorly on his command of his team.

The NFL can also be expected to factor in dishonesty with the league-appointed investigators when doling out punishments—as it did with Saints coach Sean Payton, whose attempted cover-ups during the Bountygate investigation played a role in his season-long suspension. Incognito asked his teammates to destroy the fine book he maintained, and Pouncey, Jerry and Turner are explicitly cited in the report as not being “credible.”

Mike Pouncey (51) and John Jerry (74) likely will be facing punishment from the NFL for their roles in the harassment of Jonathan Martin. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Mike Pouncey (51) and John Jerry (74) likely will be facing punishment from the NFL for their roles in the harassment of Jonathan Martin. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

There’s also the matter of returning to work for Martin, the young offensive lineman and the assistant trainer identified by the report as victims of the harassment. If there’s any question about the challenges they face, look no further than the “Judas” fines—page 129 of the report—the veteran offensive linemen levied in their kangaroo court. 

Will the report change locker-room culture?

Martin must feel vindicated, but what does that mean for his football future? Right now, where it stands is that he wants one—wherever that might be.

“Jonathan called me Wednesday and said, ‘I feel great. I’m so excited to play football and get on the field,’ ” his agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said. “He’ll be on the football field 100 percent this season.”

The independent investigation offered just one misstep by Martin, in not reporting the abuse and trying to handle his grievances within the Dolphins organization. Instead, the case played out in the national media—but perhaps, on a much bigger scale, that’s not the worst thing. Perhaps this could be a vehicle to positive change.

“Trying to make NFL locker rooms conform to the norm,” says a former-player-turned-assistant-coach, “well, good luck with that.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. As an example, the uphill battle to change how players report and view concussions is proof that culture change can be slower than we’d like. That’s particularly true with an issue like this—a locker-room culture that few outsiders understand, and the line for what’s okay and what’s not a subjective one that can vary from person to person. 

Business buzzwords like “code of conduct” might sound good, but the reality is that an NFL team, as one former player and current NFL assistant coach mused, simply can’t be run like Microsoft.

“Trying to make NFL locker rooms conform to the norm, well, good luck with that,” the coach said. “Don’t get me wrong—it’s changed a lot, because the world is changing, and the leadership or owners are changing. However, the locker room is not changing fast enough.”

That doesn’t mean the NFL and the Dolphins’ reactions won’t make an impact. The power of tackling an unprecedented issue is the ability to create a precedent.

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23 comments
gary41
gary41

The Wells report did what the NFL wanted done.  Leverage the blame off the team.  The primary fault belongs w the organization, who incredibly gave Incognito command over the OL troops.  Based on history, most teams wouldn't even have Incognito on the team, much less in charge of other people.  Yes the NFL is different---that is obvious, but there are rules already in place for aberrant workplace behavior.  What was missing was leadership.  Now comes Ross, who wants the NFL to adopt his plans for new workplace rules. 

Fifilo
Fifilo

Don't blame the dog for barking, blame the owner. This franchise has zero clue: from the owner to the coach, down to the assistants.

pk_sea
pk_sea

Why is everyone calling Martin a p*ssy for leaving the team for bullying? Incognito quit twitter because he was being bullied. That makes Incognito an even bigger puss. 

MadDoser
MadDoser

What about all the texts Martin sent with racist/homophobic words back to Ingognito?  I know that you can say "It fits the behavior of someone that was being bullied" as he does in the report but he still participated in it.  He is a grown man.   

drbcool
drbcool

I don't buy this stuff about pro football being such a rough sport that you have to allow for behavior like Incognito's. Sure it's rough. Sure it's brutal. ON THE FIELD. Not off it. Have we ever heard stories like this coming from NHL locker rooms? Pro hockey is no less tough, rough, and brutal, but they manage to leave it on the ice.

6marK6
6marK6

Incognito looks as inbred as the day is long. I also think his activities are not that uncommon.

bignatem
bignatem

It seems funny to see some of the quotes especially former player turned assistant coach, in light of what some players like Mark Schlereth have said, it boils down to professionalism. These men are professional athletes and they need to act like it and when they don't they need held accountable. No one did that when these professionals were unprofessional and so it ended up a mess. 


pirate
pirate

It CAN be done. It HAS been done. Mike Holmgren told his Packers, "We're not doing that," and made it stick. Won a Super Bowl. Tony Dungy insisted his players act like men and treat their teammates as men, not children. Won a Super Bowl. Which is why Philbin needs a suspension. It is beyond belief that he didn't know what was going on, but if he really didn't, that's just as bad. Culture of the team comes from the top.

kenc29
kenc29

Teams will change regardless. Look at what an unhealthy workplace has done? It may cause Miami to lose half of its O-linemen. That handicap will be enough for teams to want to ensure that things don't get out of hand like they have in Miami.

Mawkie
Mawkie

Is this really just an issue with the Dolphins or is this an issue across the league?  It'd be great to get current and former players input on their experiences

EBan
EBan

My issue with this report is that there are so many free passes. Mr. Martin obviously suffered harassment and bullying. Nobody deserves to be treated this way. However, why aren't people equally outraged by Incognito's behavior at the golf tournament? Why is Jim Turner, who it appears lied and was in much of this stuff, not being run out of town, exposed and disciplined? Why was Kevin O'Neill, the head trainer, given the Gatorade and NATA sponsored Tim Kerin award, which honors trainers for their dedication, service, and integrity? Integrity? Seriously? Mr. O'Neill laughed while one of his subordinates was being subjected to racial insults and threats… That's integrity? 

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?

jkc_in_dc
jkc_in_dc

Why is there no talk of the Dolphins' potential legal liability? If this were any other company, the three victims would have a very strong cause of action for a multi-million dollar

lawsuit (or multi-tens of millions for that matter)

Ilovemesomeme
Ilovemesomeme

@gary41 I still find this line of though unfathomable.  As far as everyone in the locker room was concerned, players, and coaches alike, Martin and Incognito were friends.  Why did everyone think that?  For one, Martin admits to never telling anyone (aside from his parents) the toll the abuse was taking on him.  For two, Martin himself participated in harassing other teammates, and frequently texted (thousands of them) Incognito both friendly, and vile banter.  For three, Martin himself admits to pretending to be friends with Incognito in the hopes that he would stop bullying him.  That being said, how would anyone in the organization know what was going on?  At what point to we hold a grown man (Martin) responsible for his failures and ill deeds?  At what time do we stop pretending that NFL staff is trained in the art of mind reading? 


When a handful of people are all participating, and complicit in certain types of behavior, and all of them (faking or otherwise) appear to be in it together, how would anybody know that one of them was upset about the situation unless that person opened their mouth, like an adult, and said something? 


Sorry but Martin handled this situation about as poorly as it could be handled, and he is at least partly responsible for this situation spiraling out of control.  After reading that report he needs to suffer the same consequences as the other three guys as he participated in the exact same behaviors over a long period of time.  I'm not buying his victim pleas. 

thehouseofho
thehouseofho

@pirate  And that's the point every single person who uses the "It's standard NFL locker room behavior" excuse is missing. Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy, Mike Tomlin, Mike Holmgren, Bill Belichick are all Super Bowl winning coaches and none would stand for the behavior that took place in the Dolphins locker room. Philbin may not have advocated that behavior, but he sure was complicit in letting it happen.

Dumptruck
Dumptruck

@pirate  You nailed it, Dude... Philbum needs to go as an example to all coaches that they better start listening more to the team instead of focusing on x's and o's....

dfin13
dfin13

@Mawkie  I have the same question. People are acting as if this behavior suddenly originated in the NFL in the Dolphin's locker room two years ago. Many players have said it's a league-wide pattern of behavior. If Wells had investigated most NFL teams, he would have come back with the same conclusions. I guess a scapegoat is needed to spur change, like the Patriots and Spygate, and the Saints and Bountygate. So is this Bullygate?

usameos6
usameos6

@rsrobin76  This wouldn't be the locker room run by the same Pete Carroll who never knew that Reggie Bush violated NCAA rules, did not clear his hiring of an extra coach with NFL ties with USC's compliance office (another violation that he then lied about during the investigation)?  So - everyone saying that the head coach should know everything going on in their locker room is saying that Carroll was responsible for lying to the NCAA, getting USC put on probation which cost scholarships and vacated wins is now all of a sudden all about accountability versus entitlement?

StephenGrange
StephenGrange

@subscriptions  Well aren't you a tough guy?


Yep, you're "keeping it real" by provoking others with your use of cuss words...


You little rebel! Such a tough guy in a PC world...

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