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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Memories of a sports injury

Shortly after 8pm Monday night, it started snowing pretty briskly. It snowed on and off during the night, and we were treated to a long, semi-sleepless night of parking lot plowing noise. All told, we probably got four or five inches of snow.

(From what I had been able to tell from the weather reports on the internet – which seem to be less informative than those on the radio or in the local newspaper – it wasn’t supposed to start snowing until Tuesday, but what’s done is done.)

Fast-forward to Tuesday afternoon – I decided to clean off the cars before the sun went down. I’m glad I did.

While temperatures have been topping out in the 20s lately, on Tuesday they got up into the mid-30s. In addition, freezing rain on top of the snow created a very dense mixture, particularly on the surface. Here are some pictures to illustrate what I mean:

(Click to enlarge for more detail)

This photo gives an indication of what the freezing rain has done to the snow.

I was able to push more than half of the snow off my car in one huge chunk. I paused, though, to snap this pic. 🙂

As I said, I’m glad that I cleaned our cars off – it would be a real pain to scrape all of this off in the morning if it had frozen onto the windshield and windows overnight.

* * * * *

Walking around the cars with my brush-scraper, my feet slipped on the uneven snow several times. This reminded me of an injury that I got back in high school as a direct result of this type of snow surface.

In March of each year, we began training as a team for the track and field season. We started off with some very basic conditioning over the first few weeks: basically, warm-ups, long runs, and weight-lifting. I was in decent shape, and excited for my junior season.

Soon after we began training, we had a fairly major snowstorm that left over a foot of snow on the ground. It lasted for more than a day, and came in waves: it snowed, then it stopped, then it got colder overnight and re-froze, snowed some more, and then became bitterly cold and very windy the next day. This sequence of events made for a snow surface that consisted of about two inches of fluff on top of an inch of ice, which lay on top of about a foot of soft snow.

Early in the preseason, our track team got our conditioning in on a mostly unused road whenever our old cinder track was unfit for practice. After school, soon after this storm, we went over to run our “laps,” only to find that the road hadn’t been plowed at all. I’m not sure why, but we held our practice there anyway.

It was rough. Sometimes, we’d take a step and the top layer of icy snow would hold our weight. At other times, we’d put our feet down and there would be a delayed-break, where our feet would stop momentarily on the surface before plunging through to the road.

This is kind of what the snow looked like after I stepped in it during track practice that day. Except that it was about a foot deeper.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a dangerous way to try to run five miles or so.

However, at the time we were all gung-ho about being great in spite of the bad weather, and not letting other teams get ahead of us in their training schedules. So we struggled our way down the road, up the hill, back down, etc.

Somewhere along the way, my left foot managed to land wrong. I suffered a partial lateral meniscus tear, which is torn cartilage on the outside of the knee joint. In athletes, it’s generally caused by a twisting of the joint. All of us were ripe for this type of injury that day, given the road surface conditions.

The injury didn’t require surgery, and, after doing a month of physical therapy, I was able to run again for a little while that season (until I suffered a season-ending stress fracture in my foot that May – but that’s a story for another day). Thankfully, the knee injury hasn’t bothered me much since, even though I’m twice the age that I was when it happened. However, the snowy-icy conditions reminded me of it today… reminded me how fragile our bodies can be, even when they are in good shape.


A fun story about MLB: The Show

I have a stack of games sitting next to me at the computer. Almost without exception, none of them are current in the sense that they were released at any time recently, or are hot topics around the gaming sphere. However, over the next several months, I will probably spend most or all of my my gaming time with games out of this stack.

Last weekend, I unwrapped MLB 09: The Show and started a new “Road To The Show” (RTTS) player – an lefty-hitting, right-handed outfielder named Mike Mills. He’s named after Mike Mills of R.E.M., although he looks nothing like Mills in reality: the game doesn’t allow for medium-long, curly blonde hair and dorky-cool glasses, so he’s just a white guy with short hair and a mustache – he actually looks kind of like Wally Backman, which I’m fine with.

This game is just under two years old; however, I’m not spending any more money on baseball games for a long time. I bought the game the day it came out, and I’d like to get some value out of it since I’ve been remiss in not playing it until now. Fortunately, I’m enjoying it, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

* * * * *

I like RTTS mode because it allows you to create a player and level him like you would in an RPG. You start off as a rookie in Class AA-ball after your first spring training, and work your way up through the system, training and honing your skills as you go.

Anyway, I’m trying to create a player who can hit for average, has some power, can play adequate defense, and can steal bases like a madman. I love the stolen base; I was never a fast sprinter, and was never really that good at baseball, so I rarely had the chance to steal bases when I played – but, to me, it is one of the more exciting plays in baseball. In The Show, I like reading the pitcher, timing his delivery, playing around with different approaches to taking leads off the base, and so on.

There’s a weird problem that RTTS has in this regard: when you start off, you basically have to level everything, including your raw speed. This is not true to real life at all – usually, a player working through the minor leagues has the raw speed already, and works on refining his base-stealing skills and other fundamentals. Power may be a raw “stat” that can be increased over time in real life, but speed is either there or it isn’t at that point. This is not the case in the video game, so right now I run painfully slowly on the bases as well as in the field.

I’ve done my best to remedy this, ensuring that I put points into my speed-related skills at a slightly higher rate than other skills. However, at this point I’m almost a month into my first season at Class AA, and I’m still pretty slow.

I did steal my first base last night. I got on base against a right-handed pitcher who had a knuckleball as one of the five pitches in his repertoire, but in my at-bat against him he seemed to lean pretty heavily on it. I singled, and then watched as his first pitch to the next batter took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get to the plate. I also noted that his delivery was painfully deliberate. So… I decided that I was going on the next pitch, whether it was a knuckleball or not, because of that slow delivery.

Just before the next pitch, one of the announcers said something like, “The guy at first is no threat to run, so he can really concentrate on getting the batter out.”

“Uh, yeah, right” was my thought, and as the pitcher committed to home plate, I took off. I easily beat the throw from the catcher, and stood proudly on second with my super-slow player’s first SB of 09: The Show. It was a fun game – for some reason, the knuckleballer was on the mound for six innings, and I had three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base against him.

As I play more games, do more training, “get faster,” and get on base more, I’ll start to develop a reputation for being dangerous on the base paths. That’s where the real fun begins – I’ll start stretching my leads, drawing more throws, attempting to steal third, and so on. Right now, I’m basically stuck on my base unless the pitcher has a slow delivery and a nothing harder than a weak fastball.

* * * * *

A funny thing happened last night.

In my first three weeks, I was a backup outfielder. This meant that I was starting every other game, and coming off the bench to pinch hit on the off days. As in the real game, this can be a tough assignment. It’s tough to get on base very often when you’re coming off the bench cold, even in a video game.

In spite of the erratic schedule, after three weeks I was hitting .375, so the manager was basically forced to play me every day. However, on the day before I was made a permanent starter, I was brought in off the bench… as a pitcher.

Yeah, I know, bizarre. But it gets better.

I haven’t played a baseball video game in a couple of years, and when I started this one, I went straight to RTTS, so I didn’t play any full-team games – this means that I didn’t get any experience with the pitching mechanics.

Oh well, I figured. We’ll see what happens.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and the leadoff batter, a righty, stepped into the box. The catcher called for a fastball, which I was grateful for. I reached back and whipped a fastball in there, hitting the low outside corner for a strike. Then…

I was pulled. Immediately.

The game was over, since in RTTS you only play the plays that involve you. I didn’t get to see how fast my pitch was, and I didn’t get credit for the batter, or for pitching part of an inning, or anything. However, amazingly, I got credit for the victory!

Yes… totally bizarre. So here is my career line as a pitcher: 1-0, 0.00 ERA (which is actually mathematically undefined), 0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 K, 0 BB, 0 Batters Faced.

It must have been a glitch.

The next day I was promoted, and I’ve been starting every day in my proper lineup position, roaming left field and batting third.

* * * * *

I read recently that the upcoming version, MLB 11, will feature a completely revamped RTTS experience that is more natural and realistic, which sounds awesome. It would be nice to be able to make a player that had good speed and fielding skills, and decent contact skills, to start with, so that I could have some tools to work with instead of starting out sucking at everything. Perhaps at some point down the road I will get a chance to try it out… but for now, I’m busy playing a game that most other baseball gamers were playing two springs ago.