Blame Players, Not Coaches, for Dolphins' Locker Room Fiasco

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 14, 2014

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We always want to blame the parents when the kids screw up. Sometimes, it's just bad kids.

With NFL-appointed independent investigator and practicing attorney Ted Wells releasing his report on the Miami Dolphins' workplace conduct and environment, it's fair to say that although the coaches could have done some better "parenting," the "kids" are mostly to blame: those "kids" being Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry and (to an extent) Jonathan Martin.

To begin, Martin was not the only one who was harassed by the trio of Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry. The report identifies an unnamed player ("Player A") who was also the victim of verbal and sexual abuse, as well as an unnamed assistant trainer who was the target of racial slurs. Indeed, the bullying went beyond bonding between brothers.

We can't blame the coaching staff for the inherent racism of Incognito or for violent and vulgar remarks that have been a part of the culture in Miami's locker room since at least 2012.

We simply can't expect the coaching staff to monitor every text message between teammates. We can't expect them to be aware of a fine book used to keep tabs of fines for things "such as farting, arriving late for meetings, failing to provide candy, having 'stinky dreads' or wearing 'ugly ass shoes.'"

Section 13 (page 43) of Wells' report is titled, "Coach Philbin and the Front Office Did Not Know About the Harassment," and it reveals a relationship that was much different under the supervision of coaches than it was outside the Dolphins' facility:

We find that Head Coach Joe Philbin was not aware of the mistreatment of Martin, Player A or the Assistant Trainer. After interviewing Coach Philbin at length, we were impressed with his commitment to promoting integrity and accountability throughout the Dolphins organization—a point echoed by many players. 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.

When news of this story first broke in November, instead of pointing fingers, Philbin turned the finger on himself

To be sure, the Dolphins coaching staff came up short. As we learn in the report, some of the insults took place right in front of them—namely offensive line coach Jim Turner and assistant OL coach Chris Mosley. Wells' report clearly indicates that the two coaches had overheard some comments between the two:

Martin claimed that both of his offensive line coaches, Turner and Mosley, overheard some of the raunchy comments about his sister, in the offensive line room or on the practice field. Incognito does not dispute these assertions. According to both Martin and Incognito, Turner neither joined nor criticized the harsh language. Also, both Martin and Incognito said they thought Turner was a good coach.

... 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. It is undisputed that these coaches never sought to stop the behavior.

Not only did those coaches not do anything to stop the behavior, but they also lied about what had gone on when confronted by Philbin. Shortly after Martin left, Turner told Philbin "that there had been no bullying on the offensive line and that none of his players had been called 'vulgar names.'"

The only person who was in any kind of position to put a stop to the bullying decided to hold his tongue. 

Might Turner have just written it all off as par for the course, a part of the usual bonding that takes place between offensive linemen? How could he have when Incognito didn't even feel that way? 

The Wells report cedes that behavior among football players is expectedly different from behavior that would take place "in, say, an accounting firm or a law office," but that's not a defense for Incognito, who clearly acknowledged he had taken it too far when he texted Pouncey and another lineman, "They're going to suspend me please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning" on Nov. 3, 2013, roughly a week after Martin left. 

Blame the kids, not the parents.

Even if Philbin had known enough to do something about it, there's no guarantee Incognito would have complied. Upon being questioned by Philbin about the events that had taken place between he and Martin, Incognito admitted guilt but added in the report "that admonishments from Coach Philbin 'would not change the way we're going to speak to one another.'"

This wasn't just a friendship between teammates that went sour. This was a band of brothers, led by Incognito, teaming up to have some inappropriate laughs at the expense of others. It's understandable why the victims would have a hard time coming forward.

Make no mistake, no one deserves to be bullied, regardless of the color of their skin, the level of their social awkwardness or the level of their play, but Martin himself isn't blameless, either. After he left the team, he checked himself into a hospital, requesting psychological treatment.

Whether he had a pre-existing mental condition or not, he had an opportunity to seek help for personal issues that he clearly felt defined him, such as "being socially awkward" or his "white private school conditioning" (issues he discussed in text messages with his parents). His coaches were in a position to put an end to the bullying and didn't do so, but Martin is an adult; If he wanted help, it's his job to seek it out. 

Too little, too late.

The "parents" are never blameless when the "kids" act out, but the kids (especially since these kids are adults) are rightly held accountable for their actions in Wells' final report.


Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.