“The truth is going to bury you”

That was the content of a bizarre barrage of tweets that Richie Incognito sent out earlier this week, directed at Jonathan Martin. The impetus for that barrage was puzzling at the time, but is even harder to fathom now that the Ted Wells report is out. That investigation finds that Incognito was the ringleader of a sustained pattern of harassment and bullying directed primarily at Martin, but also victimizing another unnamed Dolphins lineman as well as an assistant trainer. According to the report, Incognito acknowledged saying many of the things Martin claimed he had, including a long string of particularly sexually vulgar comments about Martin’s sister. But whereas Incognito believed that such antics were simply part of the locker room culture and a sign of the closeness of the offensive line (giving new meaning to that term), Wells concluded that “Martin was humiliated by these insults and was not a willing participant in the verbal taunting.”

Martin gave the investigating team permission to discuss his mental health problems, which were exacerbated by but did not begin as a result of the treatment he endured in Miami. It seems clear that Martin was perhaps more sensitive to the behavior the report describes than perhaps other NFL players would be. But the report, though it tries to tread gingerly in condemning a “culture” it distinguishes from ordinary workplaces, ultimately concludes that the behavior of which Incognito is accused  – as well as that of Mike Pouncey and John Jerry, also Dolphins linemen – was ultimately unacceptable in any environment.

Racial and homophobic slurs were routine and on one occasion mentioned in the report, the unnamed player alleges he was physically restrained while his tormentors “joked” about his being gay and simulated raping him. Wells says he cannot conclude either way whether that incident took place.

Wells also wrote this at the beginning of a section about the assistant trainer:

We found that the Assistant Trainer, who was born in Japan, was the target of frequent and persistent harassment, including insults relating to his race and national origin. Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey admitted that they directed racially derogatory words toward him, including “Jap” and “Chinaman.” At times, according to Martin, they referred to the Assistant Trainer as a “dirty communist” or a “North Korean,” made demands such as “give me some water you fucking chink,” spoke to him in a phony, mocking Asian accent, including asking for “rubby rubby sucky sucky,” and called his mother a “rub and tug masseuse.” Martin and others informed us that Incognito and Jerry taunted the Assistant Trainer with jokes about having sex with his girlfriend. Incognito admitted that these types of comments were made to the Assistant Trainer.

The report concludes that the abuse described was confined to the offensive line and states that coach Joe Philbin was unaware of the behaviors in question. Dave Zirin, in a column critical of the report’s soft-peddling of organizational responsible for Martin’s treatment, noted that many might find implausible claims of Philbin’s ignorance but that, if true, they don’t put the coach in a particularly good light.

On ESPN today, Teddy Bruschi and Darren Woodson were both asked for initial reactions. Their responses provide a glimpse into a world in which, it can scarcely be doubted, the behavior the Wells reports enumerates is far from rare. Bruschi did say that he thought what he heard described went too far. But he also fumbled to try to articulate a sense that when players taunt each other, they are testing their “character” to see whether there will be push back. As I noted the other day, there is an arguably warped sense of what is meant by “character” in the sports world, and Bruschi’s comment is perhaps another indication of that. Both Bruschi and Woodson were at pains to say that not every lockerroom functions according to the norms that were apparent in Miami. And Woodson was more clearly critical of the bullying. But he also said Jonathan Martin had to take some of the blame for the situation, because he went outside the lockerroom with his problems, airing dirty laundry to the public, rather than dealing with the problem in house.  Bruschi added that it was strange to use the word “workplace” in connection with NFL lockerrooms, that it was a particularly “strange” workplace. And he noted that there were “immature” people in those lockerrooms, a place in which a “different type of person” is now entering, mentioning Michael Sam and Martin.

It should be noted that Incognito’s lawyer has denounced the report, claiming that it contains many errors and insisting that neither Incognito nor anyone else bullied Martin. All of which is to say that this is not the last word on what happened in Miami. But to circle back to Zirin’s criticism of the leadership in Miami, it is noteworthy that when Michael Sam came out to a hundred college age guys, though there have been some reports that people trashed Sam behind his back, no one bothered him to his face. How much did this have to do with the way in which coach Gary Pinkel embraced Sam? What kind of tone did that set? Maybe for reasons I mentioned earlier this week, Sam would have been a bad target for bullying anyway, given what he’s been through and the possibility that he would push back firmly as opposed to shrink from harassing behavior (Martin seems to have been filled with self-loathing for having failed to confront his tormentors).

But assuming the report got the broad outlines of the story correct, it speak very poorly for Philbin and his staff that the Martin situation could have escalated to the point that it did. An ugly situation festered over the course of two seasons because, in the end, Jonathan Martin didn’t fit the mold of an increasingly outdated and simpleminded view of what a football player – and a man – is supposed to be.

Update: Bruschi and Woodson are now on NFL Live. They’ve changed their tunes in interesting ways in the past three hours. Woodson just said that he’d be the “first to admit” that, a few months ago, he thought that Jonathan Martin was at least partly at fault because he took the issue outside the lockerroom. Now, having digested more of the report, Woodson says he can’t blame Martin at all for what he did. That’s all good. But I would point out that it wasn’t a few months ago, but a few *hours* ago that Woodson felt differently. For his part, Bruschi said that the “school” “caveman” and “barbarian” ways of the lockerroom were going to have to change. I don’t know whether Woodson and Bruschi just heard enough subsequent to their initial reactions to have rethought their opinions, or whether the company suggested that there was too much inflammatory material in the report for there to be hedged comments about it.


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