Miami Dolphins  

 

Wells report reflects poorly on Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin

The sordid behavior of the Miami Dolphins' locker room finally blasted, in all its cringe-worthy detail, into the public Friday morning, a rather classic case of bullying writ as large as the men whom attorney Ted Wells concluded perpetrated it.

It will be difficult for Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry to regain much of their reputations, which is not necessarily the same as regaining/retaining their jobs. The NFL has absorbed all kinds of distasteful personalities, and the harsh reality is that many players and coaches around the league will read the report -- of the players preying on the weakest member in Jonathan Martin, of directing homophobic remarks and resorting to inappropriate touching of another player, of slinging racial slurs at an assistant trainer -- and decide that tougher personalities can live with that if it means better blocking and pass protection.

Perhaps Incognito, who stands out as the most persistent and pernicious of the group and was called the main instigator in the report, will have to wait to find another job, but that might have as much to do with his age -- 30 -- as anything else.

Incognito had vowed, in an ill-advised tweet earlier this week, that the truth would "bury" Martin. But the report does just the opposite -- it shreds Incognito's claims not just of innocence but of victimhood, too. Martin contemplated suicide twice in 2013, the report says, something which Incognito revealed this week that he knew about. That knowledge, though, did not put a stop to Incognito's harassment. He wanted Pouncey to destroy a notebook in which he kept track of the fines issued by the kangaroo court -- the existence of such a court, or fines, is not uncommon and is generally harmless and amusing. That Incognito wanted what he quickly realized would be used as evidence suggests his willingness to skirt the rules for his own benefit. That he publicly said the texts he exchanged with Martin were based on friendship -- while privately texting with Pouncey that they considered Martin a "snitch" -- says something about the pervasiveness of his thinking. Even in a bottom-line business, many owners likely will struggle with willingly bringing someone like this into his locker room when his maliciousness has now been laid bare.

Pouncey and John Jerry, though, are in their 20s -- their prime playing years -- and surely will be given a chance to prove that they were unduly influenced by a workplace that allowed Incognito to go too far, something that even one member of the organization acknowledged to Martin's mother had occurred.

The report says it hopes Martin gets another chance, and perhaps he will -- elsewhere. He remains tied to the Dolphins, in contract language only, but with his own personal issues laid bare, there will be considerable scrutiny by teams before he is picked up. And before he is easily absorbed into what will be wary locker rooms.

But what stands out, when taken in full, is the utter cluelessness of the most important members of the franchise. Perhaps the report tried to frame it that way, to exonerate the organization as a whole from something that, grotesque as it was, seemed isolated to the three protagonists and the three targets that we know of.

But how could Joe Philbin, the head coach, have no idea that there was a "pattern of harassment" being directed at two of his players, plus a member of his training staff? He apparently did not know that his offensive line coach Jim Turner, astonishingly, texted Martin after he left the team -- after the whispers about what had led him to check himself in for mental health care -- and asked him to issue a statement in support of his tormentor. Philbin asked Turner if there was bullying and Turner denied it. Turner told his boss that no one was being called vulgar names. The report said Turner was aware of a running "joke" that a player was gay and that on at least one occasion, Turner participated in the joke. He participated by giving a male blow-up doll to the player. Turner then played dumb with investigators while head trainer Kevin O'Neill grew hostile with them. Those are the people Philbin trusted with responsibility?

That points to a significant issue in management, that leads straight to Philbin's door: There was no sense of accountability, no sense of fear that lying to a higher-up would have consequences, no sense that those in charge were supposed to lead by example and not plummet down to the depths of the lowest common denominator in their midst. Philbin's lieutenants failed him at the most important moment the franchise was facing, but that raises significant questions about why Philbin put them in positions of authority in the first place, and how he had nobody inside the building who could tell him what was happening under his nose.

Perhaps the most critical job that those with the most power on a football team have -- the owner, the coach, the general manager -- is establishing a culture that breeds success. On many teams, that manifests itself in coaches who are considered control freaks, who are aware of everything happening in the organization. They put the proper people in place, anoint the proper players to police the locker room and they become aware when problems arise.

That was clearly absent here, despite the Dolphins nearly making the playoffs this season. One of the sadly laughable aspects of the entire affair is that Incognito was on a leadership committee. That speaks volumes about the complete vacuum Philbin was operating in.

The general manager, Jeff Ireland, is already gone. The owner, Stephen Ross, has vowed to review the findings, although he must do more than that. Ross must review his own leadership of the team, to determine whether he has put in place people with the values he wants to represent -- and people with the fortitude to implement these values. Earlier this week, he issued a statement saying the Dolphins would welcome Michael Sam, the Missouri product who last week came out as the first openly gay NFL prospect, "with open arms." If that sentiment is sincere, Ross has a long way to go, and not much time, to establishing a workplace that would not immediately set upon Sam.

For that, he must look first to Philbin to determine if he is the right person to move forward with, in a franchise that has been forever marked by this ordeal. By all accounts, Philbin is a good and caring man. When he learned that Martin was hospitalized, he went to him. But he failed, to devastating results, in one of the most important jobs he had: creating an environment where everybody knew he was in charge. Perhaps that was because of the internecine politics that have since come to light, but it is obvious that Philbin was not leading with a strong enough hand, to discourage the behavior in the first place, or to instill fear of the repercussions if he found out.

Wells concluded in his report that "many of the issues raised by this investigation appear to be unprecedented" and he also acknowledged that "the NFL is not an ordinary workplace."

It certainly is not. There is little doubt that much of this language could be heard elsewhere -- inside and outside of a locker room, far beyond the walls of college frat houses. What made this most troubling is that even when it became clear one member of the fraternity was struggling, the harassment did not stop; the people charged with keeping order merely added to the brew, and the Dolphins' locker room devolved into a place where many members of the team sided with Incognito when the story broke.

Other teams will spend the offseason rebuilding their rosters to improve. The Dolphins better start by looking much further up the food chain than that.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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