An inquiry into the Miami Dolphins’ workplace conditions found examples of harassment, racism, bullying, homophobia and overall a culture of intolerance in one National Football League locker room — precisely the kind of image the league has been trying to put in its past.
The findings of lead investigator Ted Wells, appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, confirmed the role played by Dolphins player Richie Incognito in driving teammate Jonathan Martin away from the team last season. The report also implicated two other starting offensive linemen — John Jerry and Mike Pouncey — in what it described as a “pattern of harassment” directed at Martin as well as another young Dolphins offensive lineman and a member of the team’s training staff.
In total, the 148-page report painted a picture that at least one NFL locker room isn’t as tolerant nor accepting as many have suggested, most notably since University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam announced Sunday that he is gay. The announcement put Sam in line to become the league’s first openly gay player after May’s NFL draft. Some suggested the league, along with its players, would welcome him; others weren’t so sure.
Three months ago, Martin, 24, left the Dolphins for emotional reasons. Accusations later surfaced that Martin had become increasingly frustrated with unrelenting hazing from older teammates — in particular Incognito, a white player, who had frequently used racial slurs toward Martin, who is black. Incognito was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and neither player returned to the Dolphins for the season’s final two months.
The 148-page document released Friday detailed Martin’s experience, which ranged from friendly — if occasionally inappropriate — trash talk to being targetedbecause he suffered from symptoms of depression. In text messages to his parents, according to the NFL-funded inquiry, Martin said his teammates frequently used racial slurs to his face, made graphic sexual remarks about his mother and sister, and berated him to the point that, during one excursion with teammates, Martin entered a yacht bathroom and sobbed.
“I care about my legacy as a professional athlete,” read one of the text messages before Martin left the team. “But I’m miserable currently. A therapist & medication won’t help me gain the respect of my teammates. I really don’t know what to do Mom.”
Mark Schamel, Incognito’s Washington-based attorney, released a statement saying that Martin was never bullied by Incognito nor any other Dolphins player.
“Mr. Wells’s NFL report is replete with errors,” the statement read. “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 investigation revealed other examples of abusive conduct, signals of broader problems within the team’s culture and perhaps warning signs for NFL locker rooms in general.
The report described how Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey frequently touched, harassed and used gay slurs toward another young Dolphins lineman, whom it identified only as Player A. Offensive line coach Jim Turner also participated, giving the player a male “blow-up doll” as part of a holiday gift bag; all other players received female dolls. Incognito, for his part, described the teammate as a “good kid” who never asked the players to stop.
“Incognito stated that Player A, although not actually believed to be gay, was subject to these taunts repeatedly and persistently — he got it ‘every day from everybody, high frequency,’ ” the report stated.
The document went on to detail an Asian American assistant trainer, whom the report also didn’t identify, frequently being “targeted with racial slurs and other racially derogatory language.” On Dec. 7, 2012, according to the findings, Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey wore Japanese headbands and jokingly threatened to physically harm the trainer in retaliation for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on that date in 1941 — a prank that led the trainer to confide in Martin that the stunt had upset him.
Text messages between Incognito, a former Dolphins captain and nine-year NFL veteran, and another player showed a pattern of racism, including one exchange in which Incognito suggested a rifle scope was “(p)erfect for shooting black people,” the report said.
Martin’s teammates also directed frequent racial slurs toward him and made jokes about slavery, according to the report.
The investigation said it found no evidence that Dolphins Coach Joe Philbin or members of the front office were aware of abusive conduct.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross issued a statement through the team on Friday saying the organization would review Wells’s findings before addressing the report. “As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another,” the owner’s statement said.
The NFL and the players’ association also released statements addressing Wells’s findings but not its specifics or any possible discipline. The Wells report suggested no penalties, but its conclusion recommended new conduct guidelines for the league.
Incognito has, in rare public appearances and posts on his Twitter page, indicated that the incidents were nothing more than friendly ribbing among co-workers. Incognito has said that he and Martin were close friends, and in text messages made public early this month, the two exchanged friendly banter, albeit with coarse language and references.
But the Wells report showed a darker side of Martin’s relationship with his teammates, along with attempts to fit in.
After Martin left the team, Pouncey and Incognito indicated that Martin wouldn’t be welcome back with the Dolphins because he had violated the NFL’s locker room code, which looks down on “snitching” on teammates. Martin told investigators that this, along with fears about retaliation, had prevented him from consulting with team leaders.
This past Wednesday, Incognito tweeted several remarks directed at Martin and his representatives, along with an apology for his language and remarks toward women. “The truth is going to bury you and your entire ‘camp,’ ” one of Incognito’s posts read, followed by the suggestion that Martin had considered suicide.
The investigation found that Martin had twice contemplated suicide, including the day after the yacht trip.
The investigation, which included a review of thousands of documents and dozens of interviews, found that Martin had frequently contacted his parents, upset that rookie hazing had continued into his second season and the continued use of racial slurs directed at him. Martin, whom the report said visited with a psychiatrist, was disappointed in his inability to stand up to his teammates’ torment.
“I figured out a major source of my anxiety. I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me,” the report stated, quoting text messages Martin had send to his mother. “I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me.”
Turner, the offensive line coach, texted Martin and urged him to release a statement absolving Incognito of blame. “Put an end to this. You are a grown man. Do the right thing,” one of Turner’s texts read.
In May 2013, Martin sent another friend a list of pros and cons about playing football. He was considering ending his NFL career after one season, and among the cons was an inability to “socialize with my teammates in their crude manner.”
Another was more direct: “I hate going in everyday.”