Thoughts on the Ted Wells report

Today, Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP released the firm’s findings on the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying case in a report commissioned by the NFL on behalf of the Miami Dolphins on November 6, 2013. The report is available in its entirety at nfldolphinsreport.com. It is a difficult read, to say the least.

In his introduction, Wells notes that they interviewed every then-current player and coach on the Dolphins, as well as the management team (including owner Stephen Ross and former-GM Jeff Ireland), for a total of over 100 interviews. In the course of his investigation, he had the privilege of wading through a mountain of vulgar text messages, voice mail messages, and testimony, and while every player was cooperative, he did face hostility to his endeavors from the head athletic trainer.

His findings include, in general: that Martin was certainly subjected to textbook workplace bullying, led by Incognito and abetted by fellow linemen John Jerry and Mike Pouncey; that another young lineman was subjected to constant homophobic bullying by the three; that an assistant trainer – who is of Asian descent – was repeatedly and mercilessly bullied about his heritage; and that the Dolphins’ management and Head Coach Joe Philbin were not aware of the bullying.

I’m not going to recap Wells’ entire report; it contains great detail about his findings. However, I will say that if one were to make judgments based solely on what’s been available via various media over the past few months, and then make comments such as this one made to Peter King about “the pussyfication of this country” without actually reading the Executive Summary (pages 9-49), one would be making such comments (and underlying judgments) having only skimmed the surface.

(Yes, I know that is a gross understatement.)

There are a few impressions that I want to share with respect to the report.

On the vulgarity:

The scope of vulgarity is eye-opening and cringe-worthy. Abuse ranged from race-baiting to disgusting taunts about having sex with Martin’s mother and/or sister (and explicit comments about their genitals), as well as implied sexual preferences of the victims. Other transgressions included aggressive, inappropriate touching, particularly in the case of the lineman who took a great deal of abuse about his supposed sexuality.

I am being general here; the report is full of specific examples of violent verbal abuse along with physical and mental abuse.

On being trapped:

Wells consulted a psychologist, William H. Berman, Ph.D., who is “an expert in matters relating to workplace dynamics, interaction and culture and interpersonal dysfunction within workplace relationships,” who concluded that what happened in the case of Jonathan Martin was consistent with an abusive workplace relationship.

Martin was drafted by Miami in 2012, made the team, and started all 16 regular season games on the offensive line for the Dolphins that season, along with the first seven of the 2013 season before he hit his boiling point and left the team. He was obviously valuable to the team – and he obviously wanted to be there, to play football, and to contribute – but he did not have a chance to choose his team or his teammates. As such, in such an abusive environment, he made attempts to alleviate the situation by attempting to befriend his abusers/fellow line-mates, in a manner that is described in the report as a classic response to one who is victimized this way and for whom it is not within his nature to simply retaliate with violence.

Without physical “eye-for-an-eye” retaliation, Martin used what he had in his personal repertoire, which ranged from attempted friendship to responses of “fuck you,” to deal with the constant abuse. Like many victims of bullying, he had little other recourse that made sense in order for him to remain playing football for the Dolphins. He didn’t feel that he could report the abuse – evident in the pressure put on him by his o-line teammates to not be a “Judas” or a snitch – nor could he just quit the team. It was not a part of his nature to fight his persecutor whenever he reached a boiling point. It’s apparent from the report that he tried to fit in several times, which often backfired on him.

He was trapped. He couldn’t “break the code” and talk to someone in authority. He couldn’t simply go to a different team, because the Dolphins own his rights (and he is under contract). He couldn’t be like the others. He couldn’t reason with his abusers. He considered suicide. Something had to give, and since the torrent of abuse did not abate, it ended up being Martin leaving the team.

On how this reflects on certain people:

What this report means for Jonathan Martin’s future in the NFL remains to be seen. I have a bad feeling that this will be another of those situations where nobody – not even his former Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh (49ers), who testified that Martin was a tough, prepared, and sound player at Stanford who fit in just fine in the locker room – will give him another chance to play in the NFL. I hope this isn’t the case; in any event, we’ll see.

One thing the report does is expose the questionable mindsets and deplorable actions of several people on the team and in the organization, including:

  1. Richie Incognito – to quote Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk: “That sound you hear in the distance could be the evaporation of any team’s potential interest in Richie Incognito.”
  2. Mike Pouncey and John Jerry (fellow linemen) – both come out of this looking like total assholes. If you need more evidence, read the report.
  3. Jim Turner (Dolphins offensive line coach) – according to the investigation, Turner was aware of the constant homophobic taunts made to the young lineman mentioned above: for Christmas 2012, he gave all of the linemen gift bags, which included a female blowup doll; except for the young lineman, to whom he gave a male blowup doll. Upon being questioned, he “couldn’t remember” it happening, which the investigators found was not credible. His repeated attempts to get Martin to lie about Incognito’s behavior shortly after the scandal surfaced were also certainly not commendable.
  4. Kevin O’Neill (Dolphins head trainer) – laughed at several of the racist insults thrown at the assistant trainer mentioned above, did not intervene or defend his subordinate, and grew hostile (and apparently terminated the conversation) when he was interviewed for the investigation.

Closing

I was appalled reading the report. It would be virtually impossible (without drastic, demonstrable personal changes on their parts) for me to ever be a Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, or John Jerry fan after doing so.

However, I’m curious to see how the NFL, the Dolphins, and other teams respond to the report, and how (if at all) things change in NFL locker rooms. Hopefully, positive changes will be made toward making the league more accommodating to players (and employees) of different races, cultures, sexual orientation, and personalities, providing them with a reasonably safer working environment.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome.

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2 Comments on “Thoughts on the Ted Wells report”

  1. Anonymous Commenter says:

    Excellent summary of the Wells investigative report on Jonathan Martin and the harassment he endured. Important to note the following:
    -Martin showed fortitude in his handling of the harassment, and courage in going public.
    -The report is a public service on the subject of workplace bullying. While the details of each workplace bullying episode vary tremendously, this is a common problem. The report shines much-needed light on this issue.
    -The Dolphins and the NFL have a societally-important opportunity to step up to the plate and show how workplace bullying can be addressed and stopped.

    • Russ says:

      Thanks for your comment. Great points from top to bottom.

      It’s my hope that this brings about real change on both a personal level and a cultural level. The NFL changing itself into a leader on this issue, as opposed to getting caught with its pants down, can influence others who are in the positions to make a difference, which can only be good for the workforce in general with respect to workplace bullying.


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