Dolphins suffered a systemic failure
February, 14, 2014
By James Walker | ESPN.com
I need to take a shower.
After reading all 144 pages of Ted Wells' report Friday, I feel the need to scrub off the sludge coming from the Miami Dolphins' locker room.
The persistent harassment.
The racial slurs.
The homophobic language.
Verbal taunts and physical acts most people would deem unacceptable in the workplace happened with the Dolphins, and were made public Friday for all to see.
We knew details of the twisted relationship between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito before Friday's report. What we didn’t know was the degree of oversight -- or the lack thereof -- within the Dolphins' organization.
Where were the leaders in this situation? Why didn't any responsible person with the Dolphins step forward and stop this mess before it became a national media firestorm?
What about offensive line coach Jim Turner? He was, at times, a willing participant in the Dolphins' screwed-up culture. According to the report, Turner used vile language toward Martin and even played a homophobic prank on another player. Turner appeared to be the person in authority who was most aware of Martin's issues with other offensive linemen. Turner was in position to stop the harassment, and didn't.
What about head trainer Kevin O'Neill? The investigation states one of his assistants, who was born in Japan, was the target of racial slurs from Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry. O'Neill failed to do anything and "allegedly even laughed at some of the racial insults," according to the report.
These are clues that should have been picked up. Yet the negative culture was allowed to fester.
Where was coach Joe Philbin? According to the report, Philbin was completely oblivious to what was going on inside his locker room. Although that's enough to keep his job, it's certainly not something to be proud of. The Dolphins, after all, were his team, and these ugly details -- 144 pages' worth -- happened on his watch. That is a stain on Philbin's résumé that is hard to shake.
The Dolphins as a franchise deserve just as much criticism as the players involved in this scandal. The Wells report pulled the curtain back on Miami's locker-room culture and showed a mixture of negligence and a lack of awareness that is unacceptable. We had an inkling months ago as to what went down in Miami, but the details that emerged Friday were worse than originally imagined.
The Dolphins' offensive line was described in the Wells report as having a "freewheeling, 'anything goes' atmosphere." That must be eradicated immediately. It is the only way to prevent another Martin-Incognito scandal from happening.
Martin was harassed, demeaned and ridiculed. But it also should be noted that Martin never reported the abuse to the Dolphins before leaving the team in October. No one -- including Martin -- is 100 percent absolved of blame.
However, the bigger picture is that a stronger team infrastructure could have prevented this. Had Martin felt more comfortable with the power structure above him, it's more likely he would have told Philbin or another person of authority about his concerns instead of leaving the team altogether. That is a systemic failure.
The Dolphins are a proud franchise with a rich history. They have won two Super Bowls and are still the owners of the NFL's only undefeated championship season.
However, Friday's sordid report is now part of the Dolphins' history. Hopefully, it can be used as a teaching tool by the Dolphins and other teams for what must be done to prevent a similar situation moving forward. That is the only hope the franchise has for cleansing itself of this scandalous chapter.