Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inconsistent With a Civilized Workplace

It's bad form to give the conclusion at the start of an essay, but I can't help myself. Hold that title in your brain as you come with me through the warped world of the Miami Dolphin's offensive line's locker room.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the background, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito were players on the Miami o-line. Their relationship is a public mixture of crude texts and racial and sexual slurs made aloud and in front of others. Neither player is still with the team; Martin walked out and Incognito was suspended. The team requested an investigation by the NFL; everyone involved is said to have cooperated fully.  No pressure was exerted on the outcome.  All parties knew that the intent was to release the report and its conclusions to the general public.

I choose to believe that Ted Wells, an African-American, Harvard educated, lawyer, who has represented both Eliot Spitzer and Scooter Libby, is not an easy man to deceive.  I choose to believe that his report is even-handed and not racially biased.  You may choose to disagree.  I only ask that, before you develop your opinion, you read all 144 pages of the report.  I did.  I knew that I would have an opinion, and I wanted it to be on that was informed by the facts, not by the precis being offered by tv's talking heads. It's disturbing and distasteful and ultimately very, very sad.

Parents should be licensed. I nominate Jonathan Martin's parents to teach the classes.  Throughout the awfulness, their emails were voices of reason, love, and concern amidst the chaos.  I'm not sure how they felt about their son hanging out in strip clubs because they never address the issu. Aside from that, their support and suggestions and the manner in which they presented them to their son are models of great parenting. Their pain comes through, but the focus is on helping their son through a tough time.

They, as I, saw two separate issues. One is the workplace environment.  The other relates to mental health.

Jonathan Martin has a well-substantiated history of depressive episodes.  He's a quiet, thoughtful, Stanford graduate who has loving, involved parents.  Richie Incognito grew up in a tough part of New Jersey and has brought his attitude with him to the NFL. He was kicked out of Oregon and Nebraska for bad behavior, and hasn't mentioned his parents at all. Two more disparate humans couldn't have intersected in a more toxic environment than these two in the Dolphin's locker room. Martin's inability to easily connect with others, Incognito's cave man persona, and a lack of real leadership in the locker room combined to create this firestorm.

The environment in that locker room is the main character in the Wells Report.  Inappropriate touching, foul language, and crude promises of obscene behavior directed at Martin's mother and sister were all part and parcel of everyday life for the Dolphin's offensive linemen.  After ten or fifteen pages of exhibits, after reading the players' reports of what they observed, I was left shaking my hand and wondering: Where were the grown-ups? 

Somehow, I cannot imagine Steve Young or Ray Lewis or Peyton or Eli Manning allowing such behavior on their watch.  Who put Richie Incognito into a leadership role?  I understand that the players elected the members of the Leadership Council; it's a sad indictment of the roster that Richie Incognito was deemed to be among the best of those men.

His behavior has never been described as anything other than what was exhibited in the Wells Report.  If this is the kind of individual to whom the Dolphins are looking for guidance, then I must agree with Bill Pollian, long-time NFL executive and eminence grise, who said, on ESPN's Sports Center, that this is not an indictment, it's a verdict.

Should the issue have been dealt with internally, sparing the rest of us the Dolphins' dirty laundry?  Probably, but impossibly so.  This is the piece that sticks with me - the fact that the culture was constructed in such a way as to make it impossible for Jonathan Martin to seek help upstream.

Let me take you to The Judas Rule (page 133), Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner's own special slice of heaven.  Though he denied making any statements which might have led the players to assume that snitching was frowned upon, would be fined,and punished, the Report does not find his denials credible. There were too many other players and trainers who reported that the Judas Rule was his invention.  Complaining about another player's actions was not only frowned upon, it was actively discouraged.  The social pressures of the locker room made reporting bad behavior an impossibility, especially for someone like Martin, whose natural tendency is to avoid confrontation.

And therein lies the nub of the problem.  I found myself wanting Jonathan Martin to get up in Richie Incognito's face, to tell him to knock it off, to insist on a change. I wondered if the abuse would have continued, unabated, if Incognito had been called out in public, in front of the whole team, not just the O-Line.  Would other players have supported Martin?  We'll never know, because that's not the kind of man Jonathan Martin is.

That said, it should not be his issue.  No one should be afraid to go to work. Tedi Bruschi, ESPN commentator and former player, encouraged Martin to get into the weight room and get stronger, but couldn't "fault him for not training harder with the Dolphins, feeling as he did."  And how did he feel?  He emailed his mother that he woke up every morning telling himself "Just get through the day." (page 72)  I don't know how you bring intensity to a workout when there's a bully lifting next to you.

Much has been made of Martin's texts to Incognito.  They are filled with similarly crude language, at times, and can be construed as filthy, friendly, manly banter.... if you are Richie Incognito.  He seems to be a man with absolutely no insight, no self-reflection, no limits on his id. Jonathan Martin had major issues when Incognito had an audience. Showing off, pounding his chest, fists flying and insults abounding, Incognito was a caricature of a Man's Man, preening for an audience of manly men. He was exorcising his own demons, becoming the bully who'd tormented him in his own youth.

That no one in the locker room took steps to intervene, to quash the hostility, to make the point that this behavior was unpleasant and unprofessional, speaks volumes.  As Chris Mortensen noted, also on ESPN, "Any team associated with this forever forfeits any claim to 'character.'"

Richie Incognito thinks he did nothing wrong.  He found Martin "not as witty" (page 72) as he was, but considered him a friend.  He feels blameless, and, reading through the texts, it's possible to see how he gets there.  Without insight into his own behavior, without any curbs on that behavior in the workplace (remember, these slurs were not hidden - they were everyday occurrences in the locker room, a very public setting), with Martin's continuing responses as he tried to get closer so that the bullying would stop (a typical reaction, as the psychologist in the Report explains), Incognito can be allowed his assumption that Martin was okay with the situation.

How would he know otherwise? There were no adults in the room.  There was no one saying that this behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It's obvious that Incognito had no frame of reference beyond the barnyard; unfortunately, a more tolerant environment was not to be found on the Dolphins' campus

Once Joe Philbin, the head coach, and Steve Ross, the owner, were made aware of the situation, they handled themselves with integrity, requesting transparency and diligence in determining the truth.  Incognito will not return to the team, nor will Martin. Coach Turner is gone, and plans are being made to rectify the situation.

We shall see.

For now, we are left with Ted Wells's assessment.  Yes, going to work in a  professional football locker room is not the same as going to work in a public school or a lawyer's office.  Yet, even factoring that in to the equation, Mr. Wells left no doubt that the actions in the Dolphins' locker room were inconsistent with a civilized workplace.

Civilized.  There's a word that ought to be the touchstone for going forward.


  1. The whole thing is utterly sad. Martin didn't deserve to be treated this way and Incognito is nothing more than a bully in a man's body. And it sounds like he's always been allowed to act this way. I really worry about Martin. He seemed like a man on the edge. What makes me angry about this whole situation is that because it's football players, it was tolerated. Any other work environment and the company would be facing a lawsuit. It's disturbing too that others did not step in. When someone is being bullied, others who allow it to happen are complicit too.

    I hope that Martin gets help and Incognito needs to be banned from the NFL. The NFL needs to send a loud and clear message that behavior like this will not be tolerated.

    I didn't know that there had already been an investigation, but I hope something good comes out of this. We shall see.

    Thanks for summing it all up for us too. :)

    Megan xxx

    1. You are welcome. The report is actually very well written and accessible to a non-legal mind.


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