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Monday, February 17, 2014
Wells paves way for Michael Sam

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

No wonder Richie Incognito was so defensive on Twitter last Thursday.

Ted Wells' 144-page report released Friday about what happened in Miami between Incognito and Jonathan Martin, among others, paints a damning picture of harassment and bullying and just poor judgment.

Incognito treated Martin badly, to the point, according to Martin, of pushing Martin toward thoughts of suicide. That's not something teammates do. That's not something friends do. That's not something brothers do. And one certainly doesn't mock the other on Twitter over it.

But there was another piece to the Wells report that was equally disturbing, illustrative and informative about the culture that Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end who last week announced he is gay, might be walking into once he is either drafted or signed by an NFL team in May. Not only did Incognito and fellow Dolphins offensive linemen Mike Pouncey and John Jerry bully Martin, they also harassed another young, quiet, reserved Dolphins offensive lineman known in the report simply as Player A.

Here's a sample, taken directly from the Wells report:

• Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry frequently taunted Player A, identified as Andrew McDonald Saturday, with homophobic epithets.

• Incognito asked McDonald, "Where's your boyfriend?" and made repulsive remarks.

• Incognito acknowledged that while no one actually believed McDonald was gay, he got it "every day from everybody, high frequency."

• According to Incognito, Martin and others, Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner was aware of the taunting of McDonald. Around Christmas 2012, Turner gave all of the linemen gift bags that included inflatable female dolls. Except Turner gave McDonald an inflatable male "blow-up" doll.

• Incognito and others acknowledged that Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry routinely touched McDonald in a mockingly suggestive manner.

It's all in the report, and it's very ugly.

Just as the racial taunting of Martin is inexcusable, so, too, is the taunting of Player A on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of whether or not he is, in fact, gay.

-- From Ted Wells' report on what went on in the Dolphins' locker room

Nevertheless, Wells wrote:

"Just as the racial taunting of Martin is inexcusable, so, too, is the taunting of Player A on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of whether or not he is, in fact, gay. Several NFL players have been vocal in promoting acceptance and integration of gay players into the league, and we believe that the NFL as an organization is committed to creating a safe environment in which a player can feel comfortable being open about his sexual orientation. With the recent announcement by Michael Sam ... it is even more urgent that a tolerant atmosphere exist throughout the league. The frequent use of homophobic insults undermines this goal."

The NFL very well might be committed to creating a safe work environment for its players. It might have dedicated itself to reinforcing the workplace guidelines that govern its locker rooms.

But the fact of the matter is that as the NFL gets ready to welcome the first openly gay player into the league, there were abhorrent things going on in Miami over the past two years that were at least partially related to a man's sexuality. While Wells' report concluded that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin did not know what was going on, the report concluded that Turner, the offensive line coach employed by Philbin, did know. Turner should have acted to support all of his players. He should not have played into the narrative Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry created about McDonald or anybody else.

The good news, hopefully, is that Wells' report should serve notice to the Dolphins and the other 31 NFL teams that bullying, taunting and hazing are not appropriate locker room behaviors. The head coaches and general managers must be held accountable. They must know what is going on inside their practice facilities, including inside the locker room, because while it might be true that an NFL locker room is the last bastion of manliness, it also is a workplace. What flew in the past isn't going to fly in the future.

The timing and findings of the Wells report are potentially terrific news for Sam. Here is a current example of something that happened to a young player who wasn't gay but who was harassed nonetheless as if he were. Look how ugly it was. Look how sad. Look how pathetic that seemingly stronger young men picked on a teammate they viewed as weaker.

That should never happen, under any circumstances, ever. And here, the NFL has an example of players acting at their worst against a teammate.

Now the league can say: Don't do this. This is wrong. This is stupid. This is unnecessary. This will cost you your job.

And it should. Incognito and Jerry are free agents whom Miami is unlikely to bring back. The Dolphins should fire Turner for being complicit. They should cut Pouncey. If they don't -- and let's face it, if Pouncey were less talented, he'd be gone -- at the very least they should suspend him for a significant portion of the 2014 season.

As we move into the untilled territory of there being an openly gay player in the NFL, all of the league needs to take heed in something else the Wells report said:

"In short, the treatment of Martin and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit. A young football player who has the skills to play at the highest level, and who also happens to be quiet and reserved, should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment from his teammates."

Hopefully from here on out, that will be a given for all NFL players.