Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin and other teammates were harassed by three starters before Martin’s departure from the National Football League franchise last season, investigator Ted Wells found.
A report by Wells, co-chairman of litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, found that three fellow members of the offensive line persistently taunted Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer with racial, sexual and homophobic slurs. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and members of the front office were unaware of the abuse, the report found.
Martin left the Dolphins in late October and the team a week later indefinitely suspended fellow lineman Richie Incognito, a ban that lasted through the rest of the NFL season. Fallout from the episode, including media reports on explicit text messages, revealed behavior in the team’s locker room that included racial and homophobic taunting.
The 148-page report showed that in the Dolphins’ locker room, at least, there was a “pervasive culture of bullying,” according to Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
“I don’t think the league can or will turn a blind eye to it,” Lebowitz, whose organization worked with the NFL on workplace conduct training in 2010, said in a telephone interview. “They’ll start looking at other locker rooms or they’ll do the thing they have in the past, which is to find a positive educational response.”
The report concluded that offensive linemen Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey “engaged in a pattern of harassment directed not only at Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer,” Wells said in a news release.
The harassment included racial slurs, homophobic name calling, improper physical touching and making sexually explicit remarks about Martin’s sister and mother, the report said.
Other Dolphins linemen, including Nate Garner, Josh Samuda, a third teammate referred to as “Player A,” and assistant trainer Naohisa Inoue, born in Japan, were also the recipients of either threats or racial epithets.
The NFL said it would review the results of the report before commenting.
Incognito’s attorney, Mark Schamel, said the report is “replete with errors.”
“The truth, as reported by the Dolphins players and as shown by the evidence, is that Jonathan Martin was never bullied by Richie Incognito or any member of the Dolphins offensive line,” Schamel said in statement.
Kenny Zuckerman, Martin’s agent, didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Joel Segal, Pouncey’s agent, or Bus Cook, Jerry’s agent.
Incognito was aware of how the persistent taunting and harassment was affecting Martin, the report said, citing entries in a book of fines the offensive linemen kept between themselves. In the hours after Martin left the team, Incognito recorded a $200 fine against himself for “breaking Jmart.” A week later, he texted Pouncey and Nate Garner saying: “They’re going to suspend me Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning.”
Incognito said two days ago on his Twitter account that he felt betrayed by Martin and was ready to move on. Martin was not telling the truth about their interactions, he said.
“I’m guilty of being a loyal friend and good teammate,” Incognito said. “I apologize for my poor language and rude remarks. I’ve never denied it.”
Incognito has filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association in an attempt to recover about $500,000 that he says he is owed under his contract. He is now an unrestricted free agent. The NFLPA said in a statement that it would review the findings closely and confer with its players and all relevant parties,’’ spokesman George Atallah said on Twitter.
Martin was placed on the Dolphins’ non-football injury list on Nov. 30, ending his season with full pay. He is under contract with the team through 2015.
Incognito said that Martin was a willing participant in the behavior between the different members of the offensive line and that the exchanges were all in jest.
The report included text-message exchanges Martin had with his parents in May in which he said he was anxious and depressed over not knowing how to defend himself from the abuse.
A lot of people within the Dolphins’ organization embraced the negativity of the bullying culture, Lebowitz said.
“People want to say he played along or was involved in it as well,” Lebowitz said. “If they actually put themselves in that situation they’d be trying to find, almost immediately as a sense of self-protection, a way of being accepted. That was probably the most immediate avenue for him.”
Philbin and members of the team’s front office were unaware of the mistreatment, the report concluded.
“We are convinced that had Coach Philbin learned of the underlying misconduct, he would have intervened promptly to ensure that Martin and others were treated with dignity,” the report said.
Martin had claimed that offensive line coaches Jim Turner and Chris Mosley had overheard “raunchy” comments about his sister, according to the report. Turner denied having overheard the remarks, while Mosley admitted to hearing crude joking about Martin’s sister, the report said.
“Based on the entire record, we find that coaches Turner and Mosley were certainly aware of some of the insulting comments directed to Martin by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey, although we cannot determine the full extent of that awareness and whether they had any appreciation of how hurtful this language was to Martin,” the report said. “It is undisputed that these coaches never sought to stop the behavior.”
The report’s conclusion encourages the creation of new workplace conduct rules, and guidelines that will “help ensure players respect each other as professionals and people.” It says that while the NFL is not an ordinary workplace, players can be “driven to despair” by bullying and insulting language.
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