The Wells report on the conduct of Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito and some of his teammates (and an assistant coach) is as hard to read as it is to fathom. There are revolting accounts of blow-up dolls, virulent racism, homophobia, misogyny and bullying that border on assault. To call it Animal House behavior is an insult to the most foul of fraternities. There is threatening language that hints at shooting and sexual violence. It's beyond appalling; it's frightening.
Jonathan Martin and others in Miami is a failure on levels large and small. Now if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is worth his $44.2 million compensation, he'll act with clarity and conviction to both punish the perpetrators and set real workplace standards. The Wells report is NSFW, which is a reflection of Miami's locker room environment: not safe for work. The NFL must be made safe for work.What happened to
The tried-and-true defense of the status quo in the NFL is simple: boys will be boys. How can we ask these marauders to be perfect citizens off the field when we ask them to be "gladiators" on the field?
Here's the other tried-and-true defense for the reactionary crowd: This is an isolated incident, and it does not reflect the vast majority of the players in the league.
Well, sorry, but those two defenses contradict each other. Either the violence of the sport is ingrained in the player, leading to a true cultural problem, or what happened in Miami is isolated to Incognito and a few meatheads who must be punished and removed from the workplace.
Let's go with T.J. Lang, the Packers' offensive lineman who tweeted on Friday, "Please don't stereotype NFL players for what's going on with Miami. That type of stuff is not common in other locker rooms."
Lang plays in the league and he would know. And if you select a random NFL player, you're far more likely to get a good citizen like Nate Burleson or Zach Strief or Tony Gonzalez than you are to get a Richie Incognito. This is the league, after all, that gave us leaders like Warrick Dunn and Curtis Martin, not just the one that gave us Aaron Hernandez.
So that proves one thing: There should be no excuses made for behavior like that shown in Miami. Boys should not be boys, no matter how brutal the sport, because it's an insult to the professionals who are trying to do their jobs and represent their communities. Men who treat their girlfriends and wives as equals should not be dragged into the mire by boys who treat women like dirt. Ted Wells called for workplace standards because those who come to work to do their jobs deserve workplace standards, just like firemen and teachers do.
Two things about the report are deeply saddening: the first is that Martin felt ashamed of his conciliatory, cooperative personality. What would make him a good co-worker in almost any other field made him feel weak in the locker room. He was ashamed of going to Stanford, and tacitly laid blame on a school that produced John Elway and Jim Plunkett and Andrew Luck. He should have been proud of his need to be liked and appreciated, because that's part of what helped make him good enough to play offensive line in the NFL.
The other sad outcome of all this is the enabling. So many people in the NFL community looked at this situation and decided that Incognito was getting a bad rap. They actually believed Martin was to blame for starting this instead of shutting up. There is a strange desire to support the so-called man's man, to back up the "bro." "Snitches get stitches," is what Incognito wrote in a text to Mike Pouncey, a linemate and fellow member of the Dolphins' leadership council. Too often that attitude gets fist-bumps instead of eye rolls. The people who tout this form of "being a man" really have no idea what manhood is. Getting to the most elite level of such a physical sport should be proof enough of manhood, rather than the beginning of a constant test of manhood. (Got that, future teammates of Michael Sam?) Anyone want to tell Tom Brady, with his perfect hair, man purses and Uggs boots, that he's not enough of a man?
And here's the other misconception about manhood: the idea that manhood and mental illness don't mix. Struggling with anything from self-esteem issues to depression doesn't detract from one's ability to dominate in a football setting. It's a little bit disturbing that many see Incognito as the alpha dog and Martin as the weakling when they have both struggled with mental health challenges. Incognito once sought out a therapist who prescribed him an anti-anxiety drug. Mental illness can strike any NFL player, and those who raise their voices to protect players from the effects of head trauma yet stay silent on the need to protect the rights of the depressed are drowning in hypocrisy and empty words.
So what will Goodell do? Yearlong suspensions for Incognito and the others directly involved (including coach Jim Turner) should be only the start. The commissioner needs to strongly convey that the NFL is a workplace of employees, despite the use of the term "player," and that this is the root of several of the league's recent problems. The next time an NFL player is arrested for domestic violence, flash back to Incognito's text about his plans to "run train" and "spit on" Martin's sister. His language might be isolated, but his misogyny is not. Neither should be allowed in the NFL's version of an office.
This isn't just on Goodell, either. One overlooked example of a workplace violation came when quarterback Josh Freeman's medical status was leaked to the media last season. Yahoo Sports has asked the NFLPA several times for an update on its investigation, and each time the response has been that the report is not ready. How the Wells report, as thorough and researched as it was, came out before the Freeman report is beyond understanding. If the players' union cares about protecting the sanctity of the workplace, that report will be just as conclusive as what Ted Wells contributed. And it will come out sooner rather than never.
A new class of rookies is about to enter the NFL. One of them will be Sam, who is openly gay. Most of the teammates these new players meet will be good guys, family men. A few, however, will be more like Richie Incognito. Who will be the leaders to these rookies? Who will set the example? The answer to that starts with the commissioner himself. The NFL has plastered signs in every locker room instructing tacklers how to better treat opponents on the field; now there must be a more comprehensive code of conduct for how to treat co-workers next to you. It's time to dump the "code" for snitches and blood brothers, and replace it with a code for the real men who make the NFL truly strong.
More NFL.com coverage of the Incognito-Martin case:
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Jonathan Martin
- Curtis Martin
- Richie Incognito