Report on Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga: History of ‘persistent bullying, harassment and ridicule’ within Dolphins
The report by independent investigator Ted Wells on the state of the Miami Dolphins organization was released on Friday morning after months of research, and the results are clear — offensive guard Richie Incognito did lead a systemic campaign of bullying and ridicule of not only offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, but also at least one of Incognito’s and Martin’s teammates, and at least one team employee.
Wells, a partner in the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, was hired by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in early November to exhaustively investigate the Dolphins franchise from top to bottom and root out any organizational tumors that may exist. Wells may have run into more than he bargained for.
“Our office has received the report of independent counsel Ted Wells, which sets forth the findings of his investigation into the workplace environment at the Miami Dolphins,” the NFL said in a statement on Friday morning. “Consistent with our commitment at the outset of this matter, the full report has been transmitted to our clubs and has been made public. We appreciate the work of Ted Wells and his colleagues and the cooperation of the Miami Dolphins organization in the investigation. After we have had an opportunity to review the report, we will have further comment as appropriate.”
The facts are as follows:
On Oct. 31, 2013, Martin, the Dolphins’ starting left tackle, left the team based after what was simply described at first as an incident with teammates. Soon after, it was revealed that Martin had tried to sit down to have a meal with some of his teammates, and his teammates all got up to leave. As we were later to discover, this was the last straw for Martin, who had a complicated relationship with Incognito from the start. On Nov. 4, the Dolphins suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team after it was further revealed that Incognito had harassed and intimidated Martin via voicemail, text message, and in person.
Neither Martin not Incognito played another down for the Dolphins last season. While Martin retreated to his family in California, Incognito went on a protracted media campaign in which he trumpeted his innocence in the matter.
“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” Incognito told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer in an exclusive interview on Nov. 10. “This is an issue of my and Jon’s relationship. You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins locker room, ‘Who had Jon Martin’s back the absolute most?’ and they’ll undoubtedly tell you [that it was] me. All this stuff coming out … it speaks to the culture of our locker room. It speaks to the culture of our closeness. It speaks to the culture of our brotherhood. The racism, the bad words … that’s what I regret most, but that is a product of the environment, and that’s something we use all the time.” You can watch the full interview below:
The “culture of the locker room” argument, as well as the fact that Martin appeared to maintain a kind of friendship with Incognito, seemed to exonerate Incognito to a point. But the Wells report blows those theories to bits.
“After a thorough examination of the facts, we conclude that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman, whom we refer to as Player A for confidentiality reasons, and a member of the training staff, whom we refer to as the Assistant Trainer,” the report states near the beginning. “We find that the Assistant Trainer repeatedly was targeted with racial slurs and other racially derogatory language. Player A frequently was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching. Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”
As to the culture of the locker room, the Wells report examines this in detail, and tears through the notion that the NFL’s specific modus operandi makes what happened to Martin and to others passable in any way. In fact, as the report said, “however offensive much of the conduct discussed in this Report may have been, it appears that the Dolphins’ rules of workplace behavior were not fully appreciated and, with respect to at least some of their actions, Incognito and his teammates may not have been clearly notified that they were crossing lines that would be enforced by the team with serious sanctions. In fact, many of the issues raised by this investigation appear to be unprecedented. We are unaware of any analogous situation in which anti-harassment policies have been applied to police how NFL teammates communicate and interact with each other.”
In other words, while there’s no question bullying and harassment happen in a lot of NFL workplaces, what happened in Miami last season was far beyond the pale. There is also the allegation, denied by the team, that Dolphins coaches went to Incognito at some point and asked him to test Martin — to get under his skin and see how much he could take.
“For the most part, Incognito does not dispute saying or writing any of the statements that Martin claimed offended him,” the report says. “Further, Incognito admitted that at times the very purpose of the verbal taunts was to ‘get under the skin’ of another person. From Incognito’s perspective, however, the statements in question were an accepted part of the everyday camaraderie of the Dolphins tight-knit offensive line. Incognito told us that Martin (and other offensive linemen) all recognized, accepted and, indeed, actively participated in ‘go-for-the-jugular’ teasing, and that vulgarity and graphic sexual comments were not only a staple of their locker-room culture but also helped them bond.”
But the effects on Martin, who had encountered bullying in high school and was prone to depression, were deep. The report states that Martin “was distressed by his teammates’ language, but attempted to hide his pain, believing that he was too sensitive and that the barbs would stop after his rookie year. We will never know whether a stronger reaction by Martin would have stopped his teammates’ behavior or exacerbated it. But Martin told us that he did not view a physical response as a viable option. Martin was a rookie when the verbal abuse began in 2012, and he was not going to begin his professional football career by trying to punch out Incognito, one of the leaders of the offensive line, who had Jerry and Pouncey backing him up. Indeed, Martin believed that trying to engage in a physical confrontation with these three—whom he viewed as a united group—would only make matters worse.
“Martin came to view his failure to stand up to his teammates as a personal shortcoming. According to Martin, the mistreatment by his teammates and his inability to make them stop the insults drove him into depression and led him to contemplate suicide on two occasions in 2013. Martin noted that in his four preceding years at Stanford, before he arrived at the Dolphins, he had no significant issues with depression and experienced no suicidal thoughts.”
Perhaps the most complex dynamic of the story is the relationship between Incognito and Martin. As Incognito said in his November interview with Glazer, “I think if you would ask Jonn Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would say, Richie Incognito. The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan.”
But that kind of friendship could easily have been Martin’s way of coping. The Wells report stated clearly that what happened in Miami was consistent with workplace harassment, and quite frequently in any harassment situation, the harassed party will try to find way to “get along to go along” because there is no other option if one wants to retain one’s position in an organization.
The man who was allegedly directly responsible for whatever edicts Incognito was given to “toughen Martin up” was offensive line coach Jim Turner, who looks absolutely horrible — borderline unemployable — in the report.
“Turner was aware of the running ‘joke’ that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting,” the report states. “Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male ‘blow-up’ doll. Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, ‘I can’t remember.’ We do not believe that Turner forgot this incident, which many others recalled.”
And in meetings, when offensive linemen were berated for missing assignments, and opined that a teammate might be responsible for an offensive play that went wrong, Turner would term that player as a “Judas.” As the report states, “We accept that the fear of being labeled a ‘snitch’ or a ‘Judas’ played a role in Martin’s decision not to report abuse from his teammates. Martin believed that going to his coaches or other authority figures meant risking ostracism or even retaliation from his fellow linemen.
“At the same time, we strongly believe that if Martin had reported the harassment to a coach or front office executive (or even his agent), the team may have been able to address his issues before it was too late. There is no question that the better course of action would have been for Martin to report the abuse. We also agree with the view, expressed by many of Martin’s teammates, that it would have been preferable for Martin’s grievances to be handled inside the Dolphins organization rather than played out in the national news media.”
No doubt this would have been preferable for all involved. But it’s clear that Martin felt that he had no friends in the organization — not only because he was harassed, but because he witnessed the harassment of others. The harassment of “Player A” has already been detailed, but the treatment of the team employee — an Asian-American assistant trainer — was particularly unseemly.
“On December 7, 2012 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem and jokingly threatened to harm the Assistant Trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Martin reported that the Assistant Trainer confided to him that he was upset about the Pearl Harbor prank, finding it derogatory and demeaning.
“Jerry and Pouncey each admitted that they repeatedly used racial language toward the Assistant Trainer—including calling him a ‘Jap’ and a ‘Chinaman’—and acknowledged their Pearl Harbor Day stunt.”
Martin told Wells that until this happened, he had never seen flagrant racial taunting. The trainer’s response — to laugh uneasily at the actions of Incognito and others — may have added to Martin’s belief that the only way to deal with this was to try and work through it the best way he knew how. But Martin, a sensitive individual prone to introspection, was in no way equipped to handle such things without some sort of help. And for whatever reason, Martin did not believe that he would receive that help from anyone in the organization.
“According to Martin, he told Turner that he had anxiety about football in a general sense, but he intentionally did not tell Turner that he was depressed because of the treatment by his teammates and his inability to confront them, which he viewed as a personal flaw. When we asked Martin why he had not disclosed his view that he was being harassed by some of his teammates, Martin told us that his reluctance to talk about his teammates’ conduct stemmed from what he perceived to be a ‘code’ in professional football that a player should not ‘snitch’ on his teammates.”
Turner exacerbated this situation on Nov. 2 when he sent messages to Martin, basically insisting that he lie on Incognito’s behalf. From the report:
November 2, 2013:
Turner: Richie incognito is getting hammered on national TV. This is not right. You could put an end to all the rumors with a simple statement. DO THE RIGHT THING. NOW.
Martin: Coach. I want to put out a statement. Believe me I do. This thing has become such a huge story somehow. But I’ve been advised not to… And I’m not supposed to text anyone either cuz last time I responded to a teammate (Richie) I was intentionally manipulated and the conversation was immediately forwarded to a reporter.
Turner: He is protecting himself. He has been beat up for 4 days. Put an end to this. You are a grown man. Do the right thing
Turner: John I want the best for you and your health but make a statement and take the heat off Richie and the lockerroom. This isn’t right.
November 3, 2013:
Turner: I know you are a man of character. Where is it?
November 6, 2013:
Turner: It is never to (sic) late to do the right thing!
“Turner sent these text messages to Martin knowing that Martin had hospitalized himself in connection with a mental health condition, and in the face of public reports indicating that Martin’s emotional condition may have been a reaction to his teammates’ bullying and abusive behavior,” the report states.
Head coach Joe Philbin has stated repeatedly that he knew nothing of the conduct going on in his own locker room. The report states that Philbin became worried about Martin only after Martin didn’t turn up. He paced the sidelines during practice, asking repeatedly for updates on Martin’s whereabouts, and visited Martin in the hospital after Martin texted his mother, coaches Philbin and Turner, and the assistant trainer, to let them know that he was alright, but in a local hospital. And while it seems incomprehensible that a head coach could not know about such things going on right under his nose for so long, it’s actually fairly common for players to create a space away from their coaches. And that space is usually the locker room.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who runs about as positive and functional a program as can be run in the NFL at this point in time, told me last November that he felt relatively comfortable and confident that he would know if this was happening in his locker room… but there was an element of uncertainty in what he said.
“I have asked. I just asked around to make sure that everything is okay, and we haven’t had any issues about that because that can be the case. I think we’re in really good shape, and I said, ‘I’m going to go up there and talk to these guys today.’ I want my information to be right. I want to make sure, is there anything going on that I don’t know about? As far as I can tell from the people that I’ve talked to, I think we’re in really good shape that way. It’s never been an issue, and that didn’t happen in college either. I just don’t like it; I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
The Dolphins’ response to the Wells report was simple.
“We have just received the report from Ted Wells and will review it in detail before responding relative to the findings. When we asked the NFL to conduct this independent review, we felt it was important to take a step back and thoroughly research these serious allegations. As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.“
The Dolphins may have been committed to a nebulous concept of accountability and respect, but it’s clear from the evidence presented that the franchise had no earthly idea how to put those ideas into practice. Now, we await the ramifications, in all kinds of ways.