Ted Wells, the independent investigator assigned by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to look into the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito hazing case with the Miami Dolphins, has released his findings in the case.
And they are shocking, to say the least.
Wells' 148-page report says that the allegations of workplace misconduct at the Dolphins' facility by Martin, who left the team last October, were legitimate and that the claims of verbal and physical abuse were quite founded — and they did not involve only Incognito, but also two other teammates.
The Report concludes 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 Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that 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.
Although Wells says in the report that the Dolphins teammates "did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury" initially, the guilty offenders did not observe the rules of proper workplace behavior.
Moreoever, 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.
Wells determines that Martin left the team with proper reasoning, and that he suffered "significant emotional distress" while with the team.
The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins — which have never before been made public — corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress.
The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.
Incognito sent out a flurry of tweets this week, claiming the truth would set him free. Wells' findings don't appear to back that up.
Consistent with my prior practices involving similar investigative reports, it is not my present intention to hold a press conference or comment further about the Report. The Report is thorough and comprehensive, and speaks for itself.
The contention from the Incognito camp that Martin's behavior helped accelerate the situation, but Wells' determination is that Martin's reaction is consistent with a defense mechanism of someone who was hoping to fit in as a way of diminishing the abuse. This behavior, according to Wells' consulting expert is consistent with a victim of abuse.
As an initial matter, Martin developed an odd but seemingly close friendship with Incognito. Not only did both linemen report that they enjoyed socializing together, the evidence also shows that they often communicated in a vulgar manner. Incognito contends that the conduct about which Martin complains was part of locker room banter meant in good fun and that Martin was a willing and active participant in verbal sparring, never letting on that he was hurt by it. Martin claims that at times he participated in off-color joking with Incognito and others in an attempt to fit in, with the hope of reducing the treatment he found offensive.
According to our consulting expert, a psychologist who focuses on matters of workplace conduct, such a reaction is consistent with the behavior of a victim of abusive treatment.
The report suggests that Martin's fragile state and history of self-diagnosed depression made the situation worse for him, and it led to contemplating suicide twice in 2013.
Another complicating factor is that Martin may have been particularly sensitive to insults from his teammates. According to Martin, in middle school and high school he was the victim of bullying, which diminished his self-confidence and self-esteem and contributed to what he self-diagnosed as periodic bouts of depression during his teenage years. Martin claims that the depression he experienced in high school recurred as a result of mistreatment by his teammates on the Dolphins and that on two occasions in 2013 he even contemplated suicide.
Wells suggests that the NFL's workplace rules might need adjusting, or better enforcing, in the conclusion of the report.
As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace. Professional football is a rough, contact sport played by men of exceptional size, speed, strength and athleticism. But even the largest, strongest and fleetest person may be driven to despair by bullying, taunting and constant insults.
We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.
In response, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement:
“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 NFLPA also issued a short statement on the report:
"We have received the report on workplace conditions in Miami. We will review the findings closely, confer with our players and all relevant parties involved."
Now we'll have to see how the Dolphins and NFL respond with actions in this multi-layered, quite thorny and frankly ugly case that has been one of the major stories of the past season.
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