The Ted Wells report on workplace conduct in the Miami Dolphins organization is a damning document. This is not surprising given how readily Richie Incognito presents himself as an all-too-real caricature of retrograde male cruelty, but the document's damnation goes far beyond the scope of Incognito's already well-known campaign of emotional terrorism on Jonathan Martin. As is usually the case in matters of entrenched workplace abuse, the Wells report reveals a gang of gutless accomplices and several rightfully terrified victims.
There is the unnamed Japanese trainer, referred to as the Assistant Trainer in the report, who became a target of offensive line "leaders" Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey. The trio repeatedly referred to him as a "chink," "jap" and "Chinaman," but this was not enough dehumanization for such a fine collection of bigots, so they "jokingly" dressed up in rising sun headbands and threatened to beat the trainer up on Pearl Harbor Day.
Because, you know, that's funny to people divorced from basic concepts such as decency and respect. I'm sure they thought it equally funny when head trainer Kevin O'Neill laughed at their delightfully wacky antics. The targeted trainer's admission that "he could not be forthright because he was concerned about losing the trust of the players," only highlights the toxic power of fear in workplaces ruled by the ignorant and cruel.
A Dolphins offensive lineman, referred to as Player A in the report, fared no better than the Assistant Trainer or Martin in this environment. Perhaps growing tired of racist taunts, Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey chose to torment Player A with endless homophobia that included Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner giving Player A a male blow-up doll. It's an incident that Turner says he "can't remember," which is exactly the sort of forthright response you'd expect from the man running this offensive line.
This is the reeking glaze accompanying the confirmation that Martin was repeatedly subjected to racist taunts as well as threats of violence against not just himself, but his mother and sister as well. The report concludes that the pattern of emotional violence at least played a role in the return of Martin's clinical depression and thoughts of suicide -- a stark reminder that the corrosive, coddled elements of NFL culture come with a due toll. What remains is to wonder what the Dolphins organization and the NFL will do about this. Coming up with the right response should be easy if they take this report as seriously as it demands to be taken.
The Dolphins have to cut ties with Incognito, Pouncey, Jerry, Turner and O'Neill, for starters. Incognito played the ringleader in this circus of cowardice, but Pouncey and Jerry went right along with it and are no less guilty. As for Turner and O'Neill, they failed in their roles as high-ranking team personnel by not only failing to stop what they saw, but unbelievably joining in on it. All five of them losing their jobs is what would happen in any workplace with any standards, and it's what needs to happen here.
Keeping any one of the five onboard would send a clear message that the right to bigotry of these five people outweighs the right to a safe workplace for everyone else in the Dolphins organization. If the organization really wants to dedicate itself to self-reform, the front office will chalk this up to command responsibility and hold the team's head coach and general manager accountable for their failure to even know what was going on.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell faces a far greater set of responsibilities as the head of a league that will soon have its first openly gay player in Michael Sam. One particular incident detailed in the report highlights the raging homophobia Sam could face:
"Martin said that on one particularly disturbing occasion, Pouncey physically restrained Player A, and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to "come get some pussy," and that Jerry responded by touching Player A's buttocks in a way that simulated anal penetration."
No need to mince words here, this goes beyond homophobia and straight into sexual assault. Forget workplace standards, this is against the law and a plainly unsafe environment for anyone, never mind an openly gay man. While it could be assumed that this situation was an NFL extreme, that still leaves open the question of what's considered normal -- a tightly protected secret highlighted by the abuse it took to get Martin to come forward.
This is Goodell's opportunity to do right by Martin's bravery. He could start by banning the Dolphins' five most guilty parties for the next season. Goodell already handed out year-long suspensions for the Saints' bounty-gate scandal and, as a matter of workplace safety, what happened inside the Dolphins' organization is no less problematic. If the NFL thinks it a privilege to be part of the league, then booting Incognito, Jerry, Pouncey, Turner and O'Neill for at least a year sends the message that the sentiment carries meaning.
Now, for as much good as a few proverbial heads on a pike can do in this situation, Goodell needs to consider how he can keep this from happening again. This is a question best answered by sociological experts on workplace harassment who understand how race, sexuality and gender play out in intense professional environments. Just as the NFL should take the Ted Wells report seriously, it should also take the recommendations of those experts as gospel on how to save the locker room from itself. Given what has already happened, the NFL doesn't have much of a choice if it cares even a little about workplace safety and public perception.
Regardless, it's too late to do much for Martin, Player A or the Assistant Trainer. The damage has been done because change always comes too late for those who need it the most. The most Goodell can do now is make sure the change actually happens.