Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bullying report shows NFL's dark side

Looking back, trouble really wasn't that difficult of a cocktail for the Miami Dolphins to mix.

On the other hand, neither is dynamite.

As we wade through the swill of the 144-page Wells report that gives us our lasting images of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin embarrassment, that's the impression that stands. This scandal didn't take that many parts in order to grow.

Yes, this could have happened elsewhere. It could have happened in Oakland or New York or Dallas or Chicago or Detroit or, yes, Tampa Bay.

All you need is one thug.

And one, according to the report, "particularly sensitive'' soul.

Also, a couple of assistant bullies to prop up the main bully.

Add in one assistant coach to enable the entire mess. And one head coach to walk blindly through the building seeing nothing, hearing nothing.

Oh, yes. And a team and a large part of a fan base that seems to be lining up to support the wrong guy.

That, just that, and a football team has embarrassed itself, its franchise and its league. That, just that, and a career is in ruins, and another is in doubt, and an average football team is trying to explain the stain.

In plain language, no, this wasn't a bunch of athletes playing rough or being vulgar for the sound of it. This was harassment. This was bullying. This was wrong.

Some days, it seems, Roger Goodell doesn't make enough money.

This one is going to be tricky for Goodell, who has to come away from this mess with some sense of how to de-louse a locker room. Think of it as teaching etiquette to cavemen. By their natures, professional locker rooms can be nasty places, with insulting humor and rowdy conduct.

And still, there is a line that a player — a worker, if you will — cannot cross. Vulgar comments about a player's sister? About a player's mother? About a player's race?

There is nothing soft about protesting any of that. There is nothing weak about protesting the noise of the workplace loudmouth. There is nothing about a locker room that allows a lack of human decency.

According to the Wells report, an independent investigation, this went far, far beyond what was civil. In the end, none of us would have put up with what Martin had to endure.

Somehow, that message seems to have been twisted by perception. To a lot of people, Incognito is the player being mistreated here, not Martin. Why? Because we expect NFL players to be louts. We shrug it off as their nature, as part of the nastiness of the job they are asked to perform.

Remember when Robbie Alomar, a baseball player, spat on an umpire? He was vilified. But when football players such as Bill Romanowski and Hardy Nickerson spat on opposing players, there really wasn't a lot of criticism.

When a former NBA player named Latrell Sprewell attacked his coach, he was castigated. But when a Carolina linebacker named Kevin Greene attacked an assistant coach on the sideline, the protests were fairly mild. Why? Because there is an expectation that football players will live on the edge. We understand why players such as former Cardinal Conrad Dobler bite in the pileups.

This mentality is at work with Incognito, too. A lot of people shrug off his insults to Martin as "just toughening him up.'' But ask yourself: Who in the world has Incognito ever toughened up? Really?

As a player, Incognito is an above-average guard who has made one Pro Bowl (as a replacement). He was kicked out of two colleges after attending anger management classes at both. In 2009, he was voted the NFL's dirtiest player. In games he has started in the NFL, his team's record is 35-67.

In other words, the guy isn't exactly a molder of men, is he?

Look, Incognito wasn't acting out of any greater good for his team. He was being a bully. Nothing more. He wasn't making his teammates better. He was making himself feel more powerful.

In the NFL, the Richie Incognito types spring up where there is weak leadership. You never see them playing for New England or the Giants or the Seahawks. Incognito only happened in Miami because an assistant coach named Jim Turner allowed it and, according to the Wells report, took part in the bullying. He happened because head coach Joe Philbin was clueless that a scandal of this size was brewing on his team.

In some ways, the suggestion that Philbin knew nothing is far worse than his lack of action. Isn't his job to keep a thumb on the pulse of the Dolphins?

As for Martin? The sad part of all of this is that Martin seemed to be one of those players who needed a little guidance from an older player. According to the Wells report, he was particularly tough on himself when he wasn't playing well, enough so that he considered suicide on two occasions. Maybe he could have used a little advice to lean on along the way.

He certainly didn't need someone talking about his sister or throwing racial slurs at him. The actions of Incognito, and Mike Pouncey, and John Jerry were the worst things for him.

And yet, the public reaction to Martin has not been kind. To many, he is the guy who left his team because he couldn't take it, not the guy who was thrown in with a bunch of Neanderthals and told to survive. The rest of us fail Martin when we fail to consider the scope of his bullies and how they scorched his career.

If you are Goodell, you have to bring your league to the point where this type of behavior cannot be tolerated. You have to instruct your coaches. You have to add team liaisons. You have to provide a place where a player such as Martin can turn when the treatment becomes too difficult to endure.

A better team, a team with more substance, would have allowed Martin to stay.

It would have told Incognito to go.

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