There’s No Easy Answer
Opinions are wide-ranging on what needs to happen to assure another Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation won't reoccur. Readers weigh in, including one who believes the NFL should follow the example of another American institution
The responses to Monday’s column about my insistence that the NFL needs to do something about hazing gone wild (as in the case of Richie Incognito and his Dolphin cohorts) have been smart and varied. A veteran scribe who’s been doing this better than I for longer than I, Len Pasquarelli, insisted players do not need to be coddled. Common sense, not a slew of new rules, should be used, Pasquarelli writes.
On ESPN.com, former lineman Mark Schlereth wrote: “Where were the men of character in the Miami locker room?” Opinions have been wide-ranging and strident. And yours will run at the bottom of this column.
But this is one I felt you should read in full. It comes from a major in the United States Army Medical Corps, Doug Powell, serving in Fort Bragg, N.C., after stints in Afghanistan and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, caring for the wounded.
Major Powell writes:
“Reading the initial Ted Wells report … and the reaction to it, I’m struck by the comments that seek to explain or excuse the behavior of Incognito and his cohorts by the ‘unique atmosphere’ of the NFL locker room, by the fact that these are ‘young men, not yet mature’ and that one can’t ‘impose the behavior codes of the business world on the locker rooms of the NFL.’ There is another code of behavior that is successfully and rigorously imposed on young men, often not completely mature, who work in hazardous environments—that of the U.S. Military. There is no tolerance in the Armed Forces for racism, sexism or sexual harassment. This isn’t just something the politicians and the generals preach. Those in the ranks realize the terrible costs that these behaviors exact from our most valuable asset—our women and men in uniform—and we are quick to police ourselves. Are we perfect? No. But when bad behavior occurs, we don’t seek to excuse it; we work harder to eradicate it.
“I can’t believe the type of behavior reported to be exhibited by at least some of the Miami Dolphins could exist in any organization that hopes to succeed or win championships or battles or wars. In the military, leaders are removed for creating or tolerating a ‘toxic command climate.’ Stories from people in such units describe verbal intimidation, humiliation and sexual harassment if not outright abuse. Leaders are removed because we all recognize that units plagued by such behavior become ineffective, with potentially disastrous consequences in battle.
“During my time in uniform, we have moved to integrate gay service members into the ranks and women into combat. I am honored to serve in a military that, if not ahead of cultural trends such as racial, gender and now sexual preference integration, is at least responsive and adaptive to them. The NFL has been a great supporter of the armed services. This support and connection is also something that the NFL uses to promote itself. If our warriors of all ages, all levels of maturity, all ranks and all jobs from initial-entry Private to seasoned special operator can uphold codes of racial, gender and sexual-preference equality, can’t our heroes on the football field strive to do the same?
“Thank you for the opportunity to express these thoughts.
“Doug Powell, Major, Medical Corps, US Army”
This is not an easy subject. There are no simple ways to stop the Hall of Fame bullying exhibited by Incognito and his mates, bullying that went beyond any logical or sporting reason. In the next six weeks, between now and the end of the NFL meetings in late March, we’ll hear from experts in the field of human resources and psychology, and experts in player relations and behavior, and from scores of players themselves. Some will think no new rules or seminars are necessary, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed, thanks to Incognito. I don’t know what Goodell will do, but I have a feeling he’ll put some over-arching plan in place that will be like the bounty strictures after the Saints’ case in 2012 in one way. Whatever the league does, I think it’ll have one aim in mind: Players and coaches will know that any future violators will be dealt with harshly. You think any assistant coaches have offered players $5,000 to knock a quarterback out of a game in the past two years? I doubt it. The punishment of the Saints is too fresh in everyone’s mind; the line has been drawn by the league office that any bounties are not to be tolerated, and so only fools will now offer bounties at this point.
Is it too bad it had to come to this? Certainly. But the disgusting excesses force the league to act. I wish I had the faith in the league and its 1,900 players that there’s not another Incognito active now, but in the testosterone factory that is the NFL, there’s no guarantee another one isn’t on one of the 32 teams now. And what’s the worst thing that can happen with some strongly written rules about locker-room behavior and what can and can’t be said among the men who play the game? Is it a negative if the N-word is banned at NFL facilities? If gay jokes are verboten? If you can’t joke about shooting black people?
If the NFL puts in insurance policies to ban the worst things from the Wells report, it’s fine with me.
Thanks for your thoughtful words, Major Powell. And now onto your email:
TIME FOR JOE TO GO. How can Joe Philbin not be fired? Did you watch the Dolphins on Hard Knocks? He is a micromanager, berating staff for leaving papers on the practice field and a player for not tying his shoelaces. And he knew nothing about this? And it has been three days since the independent report concluded assistant coach Turner lied to the investigators on multiple occasions and HE HASN’T BEEN FIRED YET. There isn’t a workplace in America where an employee could lie to the investigator and keep his job. And Philbin says he is all for accountability.
Those are very good questions. I don’t believe Philbin deserves to be fired. I believe he needs to know his team and his locker room better. Immediately. As for the line coach Jim Turner, I don’t see any way that he can be retained.
TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT? Yes, the Wells report will lead to the NFL “professionalizing” the locker rooms and team infrastructure. But do you think the Wells report will have a trickle-down effect to college ball? After all, it’s not like Incognito and others were altar boys before they got to the NFL.
—Murray, Victoria, B.C.
Very good question. For now, I doubt it. The effect of the Wells report, in my opinion, will be to put coaches and top team officials on notice that they have to expect more of a professional attitude from players. That doesn’t mean players can’t goof around. It means they can’t do things that in every other work environment in America would be cause for firing.
ROGER NEEDS A PAYCUT. What do you make of the fact that Goodell’s annual compensation is 6% of the total settlement (and when combined with Bornstein’s—10%) allotted to former players with head injuries—$675 million?
—John, New Haven, Conn.
A salary of $44 million is an incredible sum of current and deferred compensation for any CEO. I believe it’s too much. And I believe the compensation committee made up of some high-profile owners, needs to ask a question at this owners’ meeting in March about whether $70 million is too much for the top two earners in the league, regardless of how well anyone thinks they performed.
THE NFL IN MEXICO? Your thoughts on why the NFL is driving so hard for London when looking outside of the U.S., but not taking a look at Mexico City? It’s in a time zone that’s friendlier to both U.S. television viewers and local attendees, and has a large number of football fans who would appear to offer the NFL a long-term, sustained attendance level. UK fans have eagerly attended so far, but can it be sustained over the long haul, when the UK has traditionally been slow to get excited about football? I don’t understand why the NFL is not looking harder at the closer and possibly better fitting option first.
I have always thought that among North American cities, Mexico City is the best candidate for a team if you go outside of the United States. The NFL doesn’t seem ready to expand to Canada, not wanting to alienate the Canadian Football League. For that reason, I would certainly look harder at Mexico City. You are right: Fans in Mexico City would rabidly support a team. A plane flight and the weather would clearly be more advantageous than a team in England would provide. I believe the NFL is doing this because it believes going to Europe is more of a world move than going to Mexico. And the NFL wants to expand eventually around the globe.
FRANCHISE TAG INEQUALITY. You have mentioned several times in your MMQB about the franchise tag distinction for TE and WR. I would like your thoughts on one, in my opinion, even more bizarre then WR vs. TE—offensive linemen. All OL franchise tags are combined; meaning a franchise center is equal to a franchised left tackle. Why is that so? In Cleveland, for example, Alex Mack is a free agent and if is franchised will get more money then All-Pro LT Joe Thomas. Shouldn’t there be something to distinguish the OL positions?
—Daniel R. Wise
You’re absolutely correct. It should not be this way. I asked this question a year ago and the answer came back that the players felt that it helped everyone on the offensive line, instead of just tackles. I do understand that rationale, and I suppose there is no real harm to it. But the fact is, it’s going to be very hard for the Browns to franchise Alex Mack because of the inordinate cost relative to the value of his position. That’s a good catch by you. And you’re asking a question that many people in the league are asking this week.