OK, Tony Soprano and Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano are not exactly mirror images of one another, though they share eerily similar names.
There is, however, notable resemblance between Phil "The Shah" Leotardo and Dolphins GM Bill Parcells.
The similarities between the Miami Dolphins and The Sopranos don't end there however.
In the wildly popular HBO series, "The Sopranos," Tony Sopranao is the boss of the DiMeo Crime Family, Northern New Jersey's most powerful criminal organization. The Sopranos were continually able to sweep their crimes under the rug.
In South Florida, Tony Sparano appears to be the evolving boss of the new Miami Dolphin crime family, an organization, it would appear, equally as adept at hiding its own criminal activity.
I'm sure at some point in time even the fictional Soprano family held public esteem somewhere in their family history, much like the Dolphins franchise has for decades, until some shift in the core fabric led to a degradation of the family.
We've seen a shift in the past decade with the Miami Dolphins, long heralded as one of the league's model franchises, now embroiled in escalating off-field arrests, management gaffes, and media scrutiny.
Since January of 2000, Miami Dolphins players have been arrested 25 times, trailing only Denver, Minnesota and — you guessed it — Cincinnati.
There is however, a disturbing trend occuring in South Florida.
Compared to Cincinnati - where the Bengals have actually managed to trend towards fewer criminal incidents per year - the Dolphins organization's off-field incidents are disturbingly increasing.
Since January of 2007, 15 Dolphins players and coaches have been arrested — more than any team in the NFL. The notorious Bengals have had a mere nine arrests during the same period of time.
The Dolphins police blotter (arrests):
- Fred Evans — marijuana possession — February 2007
- Joey Porter — misdemeanor battery — March 2007
- Fred Evans — battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing — June 2007
- Kelly Campbell — felony possession of marijuana and ecstasy — July 2007
- Chris Chambers — DUI, recless driving, and speeding — July 2007
- Mike Dumas — assistant coach — arrested for simple battery — Christmas day, 2007
- Channing Crowder — misdemeanor leaving the scene of a crime — January 2007
- Matt Roth — arrested on public intoxication charges — February 2008
- Reagan Mauia — charged with public assault — April 2008
- Randy Starks — arrested, charged with aggravated battery of a police officer — May 2009
- Will Billingsley — Arrested, charged with misdemeanor domestic battery and resisting arrest — October 2009
- Tony McDaniel — arrested on misdemeanor battery charges — February 2010
- Will Allen — arrested, charged with DUI — February 2010
- Ronnie Brown — arrested on suspicion of DUI — March 2010
- Phillip Merling — arrested, charged with assault of a pregnant woman — May 2010
When Bill Parcells took over the GM reigns in December of 2007, he stated, "I don't want thugs and hoodlums on the team."
Since that day, 10 Dolphins players and coaches have been arrested — six battery charges among them.
The average NFL team over the past 11 years suffers on average 1.4 arrests during the off-season. The Dolphins have averaged more than four arrests per year since 2007, and five per season since Parcells took the reigns.
The latest, and unquestionably the most disturbing, involves Phillip Merling who this week was arrested and charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend.
What's going on in Miami? Haven't they learned from Cincinnati?
On the one hand, you have Bill Parcells telling the media upon taking over that he will not tolerate these types of players or the behavior.
On the other hand, not a single Dolphin player has been disciplined by the team for any of these incidents — no fines, no game suspensions.
And despite each of these players having violated the NFL's Player Conduct Policy, the NFL has been mysteriously absent from South Florida as well, despite the severity of some of the claims (i.e., the number of assaults against law enforcement officers by Dolphins players).
The persistent message sent by the NFL and the Dolphins organization to it's players?
You'll suffer no repercussions here for your off-the-field incidents. Strike a police officer, and head right back to work. Punch your pregnant girlfriend, but be here in time to get your pads on for OTAs.
While many other NFL organizations would have told Merling (based on the severity of the charges levied against him) to stay away for a period of time, Phillip was mysteriously welcomed back to mini camp by the Dolphins the day after being arrested and charged.
He was seen laughing and stretching with teammates preparing for for pracitce on Friday after his arrest.
Regarding Merling, Crime Boss (err, Coach) Tony Sparano stated, "It's a situation we're dealing closely with the league with, trying to gather facts, but it really is a league situation -- the league is handling this."
What? The Dolphins aren't stepping in? The Dolphins have no say in the matter, despite the severity of the claim?
Perhaps this embodies what is wrong in South Florida.
Sparano's "The league is handling this" comment shows a lack of team discipline and control that fly in the face of the comments delivered by Parcells upon being hired.
While other teams will sometimes sit a player for a game or assess fines in addition to civil and/or league punishment, Miami's position is to push the responsibility for reprimands off to the league and take the stance of "no comment."
And so far, it's worked for the Dolphins.
10 arrests under Parcells have yielded no fines and no game suspensions from either the Dolphins or the NFL.
Even Cincinatti, the moral low ground of the NFL for much of the decade, would sit a player for a game for off-the-field incidents (example - Cincinnati sat Chris Henry for a game after an Odell Thurman-related DUI incident that Henry was involved in).
We saw recently with the Jeff Ireland-Dez Bryant mess in South Florida how Parcells and Dolphins ownership persistently waited for the chatter to die down and disappear.
Instead of fining Ireland, for instance, and sending the team and the public the message that "We, the Dolphins organization, will not tolerate such lapses in obvious judgment," the Dolphins did nothing save to say 'we are investigating it internally.'
Has anyone ever seen the results of this investigation?
Does anyone really expect to?
When Randy Starks used his truck (that he was driving) to pin a police officer against his cruiser, the team offered no additional discipline. The charges were later reduced to nothing more than a traffic fine.
And now, Phillip Merling practices and prepares for the season as if nothing had occurred just a day before.
The persistent message by the Dolphins to their coaches and players? "You are protected here despite your transgressions."
Is this continuing unspoken message breeding a culture of, "we can get away with anything" in Miami?
It's hard to say.
What is known is that off-the-field incidents are increasing under the Parcells-Sparano watch. Are these increasing arrests the result of an ever growing culture of "thugs and hoodlums," something Parcells promised he wouldn't tolerate in Miami? Or mere coincidence?
Perhaps Bill should move to D.C. after his Miami tenure is over. He would do well in in a city where making promises you never have to deliver upon is a way of life.
Update - June 1, 2010 - Today it appears that this "story" is now going mainstream. This afternoon, FoxSports' lead NFL story became - "Miami has become home for NFL's Bad Boys", as written by Alex Marvez of FoxSports, sometime radio co-host on Sirius NFL Radio, and former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. The main photo shows Bill Parcells with the bold letters - CRIME BOSS with the subheading "After once promising no 'thugs and hoodlums,' Bill Parcells' Dolphins are the NFL's new Bad Boys." Prior to this only small regional publications/sites were covering the situation. Maybe the "pass" Miami has been given by the media is now changing to national focus on the situation.
Update - July 22, 2010 - Yesterday, Phillip Merling was officially charged with Felony Battery against his pregnant girlfriend. If convicted, Merling could face 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
In a separate update, Dolphin WR Brian Hartline could be facing charges as well. Earlier this month Hartline's truck crashed into an abandoned Cadillac Escalade at 4:30AM. Hartline was nowhere to be found after the crash. Troopers attempted to find Hartline at home after the crash, but was not home. After reaching his wife, a lawyer for Hartline returned the call. Hartline has not yet contacted or spoken with the troopers.
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