February 16, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
On Friday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, an independent investigator presented the National Football League with a 144 page Valentine’s Day gift. It wasn’t chocolates and it didn’t come wrapped up with a bouquet of roses. But it sure was memorable.
The “gift” is a brutally candid and explicit report into allegations that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito and others engaged in “persistent workplace abuse, harassment and humiliation” of teammate Jonathon Martin as well as another player (Player A) and an Assistant Trainer.
This report was triggered by events leading up to October 28th 2013. For on that brisk fall day in the middle of football practice, Jonathon Martin decided he’d had enough. He picked up his helmet, walked away from the football field, left the Miami Dolphins team facility and has yet to return.
For a young man whose dream of playing pro ball came true just the year before when he was drafted by the Dolphins it sure was a strange and inexplicable thing to do.
Now, we know that it was only strange and inexplicable to those who have never been bullied to the point that they simply couldn’t take it anymore. We also know that Jonathon Martin has contemplated suicide at least twice as a result of the bullying and humiliation he endured at the hands of Incognito and at least two other teammates.
Jonathon Martin or JMART, who stands 6’5″ and weighs in at 315 pounds is no one’s image of somebody who’d ever be on the wrong end of the bullying stick. Yet, by his own admission, Jonathon is a “people pleaser” and a “pushover” who has been bullied since junior high school despite always being at least twice the size of his tormentors. Despite his football physique, he’s not the prototypical athlete. Quiet, reserved, he enjoys a number of intellectual pursuits outside of the sport. A Stanford graduate of an upper-middle African-American family. He was, as the report makes clear, “vulnerable” to taunts about who he is and his own insecurities. He was, in the words of Incognito “not black enough,” whatever that meant.
The report prepared by lead investigator Ted Wells Jr., at the behest of Commissioner Roger Goodell, is tough to get through. As a certified professional mediator (CPM) and one who has mediated workplace harassment cases on behalf of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (US EEOC) I’ve read and heard lots of nasty and offensive things folks have done and said to each other in the workplace.
But I got to say, the sexually explicit insults and vulgarities hurled by Incognito at Martin’s sister and mother, his homophobic attacks on Martin and the Assistant Trainer, complete with simulated sexual positions and improper physical grabbing and touching as well as the racism and “playful threats” from Incognito and his fellow teammates to Jonathon are as demeaning, humiliating and repugnant as any I’ve ever come across.
The persistent, ceaseless workplace bullying that this report paints an ugly portrait of that went on inside the Miami Dolphins locker room and on and off the playing field makes me wonder—How did these guys, these supposedly world-class athletes ever find the time to you know, play football?
There are a couple of other things that also seem to leap off the pages of the report to me and sadly, I don’t mean leap into a Heisman Trophy winning pose.
First, it wasn’t just fellow football players that were the target of such abuse. The Miami Dolphins Assistant trainer, who was born in Japan was tormented on a daily basis with racial slurs. He was called everything from “Jap,” “Chink” “Dirty Communist” to a whole bunch of names I don’t want to even repeat in this blog. On December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day) Incognito and his fellow tormentors wore Japanese style headbands and repeatedly insulted and threatened this man, claiming they’d get him and his family for what “they” did to the US.
Who knows, maybe he found such abuse to be a respite from their usual attacks. On a daily basis Incognitio and his band of bullies would accost this trainer with requests to have sex with his (Asian slur) mother and in exaggerated Asian accents simulate enjoying a sexually-oriented massage with his mother.
I’m sorry, how old are these guys again?
Second, just as one of the threshold “triggers” in workplace harassment lawsuits is the implicit or complicit knowledge of such abuse by a superior, so it was with the Miami Dolphins. The Head Trainer, Kevin O’Donnell, not only knew of the abuse endured by his subordinate (Assistant Trainer) he apparently laughed it off and even participated.
To help perpetuate the running “joke” that another player was gay, O’Donnell along with Incognito arranged to give inflatable female sex dolls to many of the players. Except for “Player A.” They made sure he got a “blow-up” male doll. Complete with graphically detailed ways this player should find “pleasure.” Hee-haw. Who says the NFL stands for “No Fun League?”
Good times Dolphins. Do the players get to take their dolls with them to film room?
Third, much of the abusive behavior that Incognitio and mates Mike Pouncey and John Jerry are engaged in seems eerily close to what we see in prison life. Group taunting, gang-like behavior in terms of status and domination of vulnerable members, language soaked in prison verbiage, it seems at times all Incognitio and his gang were missing were the orange jumpsuits.
Incognitio even bragged that Jonathon was “his b***” and his “N” slave.
Gee, I don’t recall hearing that particular QB call in the playbook. But then like Howard Cosell famously said, I never played the game. At least, not as a professional.
So, maybe this is just, as Incognitio claims, typical “locker room” banter. You know, boys being boys. The investigators reviewed thousands of texts and interviewed every member on the team and describe the relationship between Jonathon and Incognito as “complex.” There are even texts right after Incognito got suspended for a racist and vulgarity-laced voice-message he left Jonathon where he (Incognito) refers to Martin as “bro” and that they all miss him and the media is all over him (Incognito) for a “bunch of sh*t.”
In Martin’s response he almost seems to dismiss Incognito’s behavior and attempts to shift blame back to himself.
You know the all too common response of say, a victim of spousal abuse and violence. “It’s my fault, if only I had (not messed up dinner, not forgot his beer, made sure the kids were quiet) basically not existed.
Psychologists and victims of bullying tell us that it is common for the victim to try and “fit in” and even develop a relationship with the bully. It’s a classic coping mechanism. One the victim figures will reduce the bullying and even spare them worse abuse or in the extreme, their life.
And, sadly, it never seems to help. The bully feels even more powerful, the victim more vulnerable and his or her own insecurities continue to wrongfully conclude that they somehow “brought this on themselves.”
Which all leads me to this question-
Was all this abuse just “tough love” and the stuff that goes on in sports locker rooms everywhere? Playing sports is not your typical workplace environment after all. Try engaging in this type of “banter” tomorrow at your dentist’s office or at the accounting firm and see how far you get.
Still, there is a certain sadism that all bullies share. A certain pleasure they get from picking on those they see as weak or vulnerable. This, as the report makes clear, makes Incognito’s behavior more not less objectionable.
There is also a line that goodhearted teasing knows not to cross and bullies trample over. Like the judge who once said he couldn’t define obscenity but “knew it when he saw it” this sure looks to me like bullying.
And the mediator in me has no doubt that it’s a pattern of unacceptable and unlawful behavior that simply cannot be tolerated in this or any workplace.
Regardless of what any of us do for a living we are all humans after all. Some of us just don’t seem like they’ve fully evolved.