Updated at 2:07 p.m. EST with statement from Incognito’s attorney
An independent report into allegations of hazing and bullying involving the Miami Dolphins has found that Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey engaged in harassment directed at Jonathan Martin, as well as another Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.
The 148-page report condemns behavior in the team’s locker room, saying that it was “consistent with a case of workplace bullying.” The behavior became public last fall when Martin left the Dolphins after a lunchroom incident. Although text messages showed high-testosterone exchanges between Incognito and Martin, Wells felt they were not exculpatory.
The firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, with Ted Wells appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to lead the investigation, found 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 Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman, whom we refer to as Player A for confidentiality reasons, and a member of the training staff, whom we refer to as the Assistant Trainer. We find that the Assistant Trainer repeatedly was targeted racial slurs and other racially derogatory language. Player A frequently was subjected to homophobic name calling and improper physical touching. Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at time ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.
“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.”
The report will have long-lasting repercussions in the league: there will be a lower tolerance for the locker-room joshing that may cross a line from requiring rookies to carry pads and equipment into harassment. It concludes that:
“As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace. Professional football is a touch 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.”
Martin, a second-year player who said last month that he “felt trapped” in the locker room, left the team in October and Goodell appointed Wells in early November. Incognito was suspended until just two weeks ago. The Dolphins took steps to change their management with the firing of General Manager Jeff Ireland, who encouraged Incognito to “toughen up” Martin according to the report, and the departure of Assistant GM Brian Gaine. As for Incognito, he will be a free agent and may find work in the NFL, given the value of talented linemen and the fact that the league has welcomed back Michael Vick and Gregg Williams, but it won’t be easy. He is not expected to return to Miami, though, according to a comment by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross last month. Nor is Martin, the lesser-talented of the two players. Still, he is quite likely to find an NFL job and he received vocal support from his former teammates at Stanford who are now in the league.
“We have just received the report from Ted Wells and will review it in detail before responding relative to the findings,” Ross said in a statement released by the team. “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.”
Incognito’s attorney, Mark Schamel, on Friday said in a statement: “Mr. Wells’s NFL report is replete with errors. The facts do not support a conclusion that Jonathan Martin’s mental health, drug use or on-field performance issues were related to the treatment by his teammates. It is disappointing that Mr. Wells would have gotten it so wrong, but not surprising. The truth, as reported by the Dolphins players and as shown by the evidence, is that Jonathan Martin was never bulled by Richie Incognito or any member of the Dolphins offensive line. We are analyzing the entire report and will release a thorough analysis as soon as it is ready.”
Only two days ago, Incognito offered a furious rant about the pending Wells report. “The facts clearly show the allegations are false and there was no bullying,” Incognito told the NFL Network’s Mike Silver at the time. “Just banter both ways between two good friends. I intend to do as I always have: focus on doing the best job I can for my team and fans and helping my team win. I will have no other comment until the Wells report is issued.”
On Friday, Incognito himself had one comment, on Twitter:
Pleeeeease Stop The Hate. Happy Valentines Day :)— Richie Incognito (@68INCOGNITO) February 14, 2014
Wells considered a number of profane, racially and sexually insensitive text messages between the two that seemed to indicate a friendship in which Martin was fine with the behavior.
“To be candid,” the report states, “we struggled with how to evaluate Martin’s claims of harassment given his mental health issues, his possible heightened sensitivity to insults and his unusual, ‘bipolar’ friendship with Incognito. Nonetheless, we ultimately concluded that Martin was indeed harassed by Incognito, who can fairly be described as the main instigator, and by Jerry and Pouncey, who tended to follow Incognito’s lead.
“In reaching this conclusion, we were significantly influenced by multiple factors, including the flagrantly inappropriate treatment of the Assistant Trainer and Player A, which, independent of Martin’s claims, reflected a pattern of harassment. Moreover, shortly after Martin left the team, Incognito made a number of telling entries in a notebook used to keep track of ‘fines’ the offensive linemen imposed on each other in their ‘kangaroo court’ (typically for trivial infractions such as arriving late to meetings). Incognito recorded a $200 fine against himself for ‘breaking Jmart,’ awarded another lineman who had been verbally taunted a $250 bonus for ‘not cracking first,’ and wrote down a number of penalties against Martin for acting like a ‘[vulgarity].’ The evidence shows, and Incognito did not dispute, that ‘breaking Jmart’ meant causing Martin to have an emotional reaction in response to taunting. Approximately one week after Martin left the team, on November 3, 2013, Incognito wrote nearly identical text messages to Pouncey and another lineman: ‘They’re going to suspend me Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning.’ We view Incognito’s entries in the fine book about ‘breaking Jmart’ and his attempt to destroy the fine book — which was unsuccessful — as evidence demonstrating his awareness that he had engaged in improper conduct toward Martin.”
The NFL promised “further comment” after it reviews the report and there may well be discipline, given Goodell’s recent comments about fostering a welcome and comfortable workplace environment for Michael Sam, the first openly gay college football player, should he step into in the league. “We have a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Goodell said last week. “We will have further training and make sure that everyone understands our commitment. We truly believe in diversity and this is an opportunity to demonstrate it.”
Incognito was suspended for half of the season, but Goodell is likely to consider, as did Wells, that Dolphins players, including Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey, signed a workplace-conduct policy that defined harassment as “including unwelcome contact; jokes, comments and antics; generalizations and put-downs.”