NFL Bullying Report Yields Details Of Dolphins 'Harassment'

Feb 14, 2014
Originally published on February 14, 2014 4:58 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In late October, about halfway through the National Football League season, a young offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins named Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team. Martin alleged that he had been repeatedly bullied by a veteran teammate, Richie Incognito. The story drew headlines and the NFL commissioned an investigation. Its findings were released today, and they are firmly on the side of Jonathan Martin.

And joining us now to discuss this news is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: The NFL hired criminal defense lawyer Ted Wells to investigate the episode. What did Wells do and what did he find?

FATSIS: Well, he and his staff interviewed more than a hundred people. They produced a nearly 150-page report. And the report concludes that Richie Incognito and two other offensive lineman, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed not only at Martin but at another young lineman and at an assistant on the team's training staff. They also found that a Dolphins coach, Jim Turner, was aware of the harassment, even participated in the taunting of one player.

The details are graphic and vulgar, a stream of racist and anti-gay slurs and sexually explicit remarks about members of Martin's family. The report concludes: The treatment of Martin and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit.

SIEGEL: And, Stefan, that seems important here, because Richie Incognito - the lineman at the center of the allegations - maintained that the taunting behavior was par for the course in an NFL locker room, and the nature of his relationship with Jonathan Martin was, too.

FATSIS: Well, the report buries that explanation. Some of the text messages between Incognito and Martin make it seem like two pals joking around. But Martin at the same time was telling friends and family members that he was distraught, depressed, even suicidal. There were a series of messages between Martin and his parents that are just profoundly saddening.

This was a quiet young man who was deeply troubled by what was happening to him. Martin told the investigators he played along with the culture in order to try to fit in, and in the hopes the bullying would end. And that was classic behavior by a victim of bullying.

SIEGEL: Now, when this story broke, one particular aspect highlighted in the media was the racist language directed by Incognito at Martin, particularly a phone message and a text in which Incognito used the N-word. Was race at the heart of this?

FATSIS: No, it wasn't. The two new players that are implicated in the report, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry, are black and biracial, respectively. There was racial animus on display for sure, an alarming text exchange between Incognito and another white player about guns and killing black people. And the assistant trainer is Japanese-born and he faced vile racist taunts that unnerved him.

But this was more about power than race. Jonathan Martin and the other players who were targeted were, as the report puts it, quieter, different and unlikely to fight back.

SIEGEL: This report comes the same week that an NFL prospect from the University of Missouri, Michael Sam, said publicly that he is gay, and there have been comments that the National Football League is not ready for an openly gay player. One reading of this report is that if the Dolphins locker room is typical then the NFL isn't ready for an openly gay player.

FATSIS: I disagree with that. I think this was absolute extreme. The majority of the NFL is not like this. But this episode does corroborate that this sort of thinking and behavior can occur where there are no safeguards. Locker rooms have skated in the past because of this bogus conceit that they're sacred places that belong to their inhabitants and should be free of outside control. Well guess what? Now there's going to be control. It's going to be a lot harder for the Richie Incognitos of the world to abuse anyone.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis talks to us about sports and the business of sports most Fridays. Thanks, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.