If you want to understand why it took forever for a man to publicly state he was gay in an NFL locker room, look no further than the scathing, brutal and sad report from attorney Ted Wells on the prehistoric culture of the Miami Dolphins locker room.
There is enough in this report to make almost any fair, decent human not want to be associated with the human race.
First, there's the abuse of Jonathan Martin. Then, there's the accusation that a Japanese-born assistant trainer was pummeled with racial taunts. The report states the trainer was called a "Jap," "Chinaman," a "dirty communist" and a "North Korean." The report states that players would make demands such as "give me some water you f---ing chink."
The report states that Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey taunted other players besides Martin. Players were "subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching."
"The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team," Wells stated in a press release. "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 is rife with examples of some of the darker aspects of human nature. All in the Dolphins locker room.
While the text messages between Martin and Incognito show one side—that maybe Martin wasn't such an innocent man, as he was portrayed—the Wells report presents another side. Wells has text messages between Incognito and Pouncey in which the two men plotted to retaliate against Martin.
This exchange happened on page 133 of the report (please note that the obscenities have been censored here and in the previous citation):
Incognito: F--- Jmart That f----t is never [allowed] back
Pouncey: Bro I said the same thing I can’t even look at him the same he’s a p---y
Incognito: My agent just said if we held mandatory strip club meetings Jmart is f---ing ratting on everyone
Pouncey: Lol wow are you serious he is a f--- boy
Pouncey: He’s not welcome back bro I can’t be around that f---ing guy
Incognito: F--- that guy if Ur not with [u]s Ur against us
Pouncey: No question bro he’s a coward for snitching
Incognito: Snitches get stiches Blood in blood out F---ing guy
Pouncey: He’s dead to me
That exchange sounds like a Sopranos wiretap.
Wells also reports that Incognito wanted a fine book—a document containing all of the player-imposed fines—destroyed as the investigation began to close in on him. That's like some Watergate stuff.
"Incognito's attempt to destroy the fine book is a classic example of evidence demonstrating 'consciousness of wrongdoing,'" said the report.
Martin told investigators that Incognito "sometimes shoved him or ate food taken from his locker." What kind of childishness is that?
This is one of the saddest days in recent NFL history. A curtain was pulled back on the NFL locker-room culture, and it revealed that some are more like prisons than they are locker rooms. Wells describes a place that's like Shawshank. (Dolphin) Orange is the New Black.
If anyone in any other workplace behaved like Incognito or some of these other troglodytic jackasses, they'd be fired. Or sued. But in the NFL, this is somehow acceptable behavior. The Miami coaches, blind deaf and dumb (or so it seems), allowed this cancer to grow. Head coach Joe Philbin is portrayed in Wells' report not as a bad guy, but as a rube—an aloof sucker who has no clue what goes on in his own workplace.
I don't want to hear this nonsense that a lot of coaches don't know what happens in their locker rooms. I can tell you that's just not accurate. You think Bill Belichick or John Fox or Pete Carroll don't know what happens in their locker rooms?
In the NFL, it's always said that the locker room is a special place where players are granted license to behave in what is at times an inhuman manner.
The logic goes like this: They play a violent game, so the locker room is their outlet to let men be men. Players act like they deserve diplomatic immunity for things that are said and done in there, things that would sink human beings in almost any other profession.
In the Army, soldiers train to kill people, but they can't act like that without serious repercussions.
It's time to change the locker-room mindset in football, and the NFL will. I've been told by a number of sources the league is planning major action in light of this report. Team officials believe the league will use this as a great teachable moment in an attempt to transform the locker-room culture once and for all. The same way the NFL used Bountygate to end the practice of paying cash for hard hits.
Some heads may roll, and that's good. But something else needs to happen. There needs to be change made in the minds and hearts of players themselves. An NFL source, speaking about Troy Vincent, the senior vice president of the NFL Player Engagement, put it this way:
"Our workplace conduct policies and programs are under review. The commissioner and Troy Vincent have met with 35 players over the past month to get their input…key word players use when talking about what they expect in their workplace environment is respect. They also say that what happened in Miami is not the norm."
There is a part of that change the NFL will mandate. The same way the federal government mandates ways people can act in a workplace once they're hired.
What also needs to happen is that players themselves need to change the environment. The excuse-making of "this is our locker room, it's a different place, it's not civilized" needs to stop. It's that thinking that led us to this awful moment.
Players have to make NFL locker rooms not an island of indecency, but a culture of tolerance for everyone. It hasn't been this way, which is why a gay man didn't proudly and bravely step out of the closet until the year 2014.
There also needs to be something else stated and said bluntly: It is an absolute disgrace that Martin was allegedly told by black players that he wasn't "black enough." Why wasn't he black enough? Because he's educated? If you go to a great school and get a degree, you're not black enough?
It's a mess. The NFL will attempt to fix it.
But what really needs to happen is that players need to fix their own house. And fix it fast.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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