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.”