Bullying Case Exposes Leadership Void in Miami Locker Room

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November 5, 2013 Tuesday
733 words
Bullying case points to leadership void;
Dolphins players should have intervened
Jarrett Bell,[email protected],USA TODAY Sports

If the situation were not so serious, this detail would be funny:

Richie Incognito was voted by teammates this season to be a member of the Miami Dolphins' so-called leadership council.

Even worse, the scrappy left guard was viewed as the most vocal member of the six-player council, established to carry team issues up the ladder.

That tells you how sorely the Dolphins lack locker room leadership.

Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the team Sunday after his alleged bullying of second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin was backed by evidence that included at least one voice mail message containing a racial slur, a threat and other unprintable insults. The voice mail, first reported by ESPN, is probably just the beginning.

After the team's initial denials about the bullying "speculation" and Incognito's tweets defending his honor, the story has flipped. The result: Incognito likely has played his final down for the Dolphins, maybe his last in the NFL.

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and former New England Patriots front office executive Scott Pioli said Monday that when Incognito came out of Nebraska in 2005 their teams removed him from their draft boards because of character concerns.

Two other GMs told USA TODAY Sports that Incognito was scratched from their boards. The GMs did not want to be identified for competitive reasons.

Weighing character risks is part of the inexact science of the draft process -- and when moves backfire, the 20/20 hindsight has added relevance.

"Every team has that list," Dungy said. "If we had 30 guys on the list, 28 would be drafted by other teams. And some wound up playing in Pro Bowls. ... I'm sure we took chances on players who were on someone else's list."

Incognito was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams and released in 2009 shortly after a sideline shouting match with then-coach Steve Spagnuolo. Along the way, he gained an unwanted reputation as the league's dirtiest player.

But his checkered past did not prevent the Dolphins from signing him as a free agent in 2010.

It's fair to wonder whether Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, who was at the center of controversy for below-the-belt questions during his predraft grilling of Dez Bryant, was as thorough in vetting Incognito.

When contacted by USA TODAY Sports, Ireland said, "(I) absolutely scrutinized Richie's character." But apparently something was missed.

It is unclear whether Incognito will file a grievance to dispute his suspension, which, according to the collective bargaining agreement, can be extended to four games. I doubt the players union -- with more than two-thirds of its members African American -- would back a grievance by Incognito.

NFL Players Association officials could not be reached for comment.

Last month, the union filed a grievance on behalf of murder suspect Aaron Hernandez, who wants to recoup millions in guaranteed salary and a workout bonus from the Patriots. But that decision likely was to maintain a precedent.

When Riley Cooper was fined by the Philadelphia Eagles after a video captured him using a racial slur, there was no grievance -- in part because Cooper didn't dispute the fine. Yet the union wasn't going to touch that case, either.

The discipline for Incognito could be even harsher than a four-game ban, given that he could be punished for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, which could supersede the team discipline.

That policy includes detailed language that addresses workplace harassment. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin pledged Monday to fix the team's workplace environment if the NFL's review revealed a problem.


It's possible Philbin and Ireland could have been unaware of the alleged bullying. Yet it's doubtful other players didn't have a clue. They should have intervened. That's where the leadership council is supposed to come into play.

As a coach, Dungy had a rule against rookie hazing -- let alone anything that could have allowed for such blatant disrespect of a teammate as alleged in the Martin case.

If there were issues, they typically didn't get to Dungy's desk.

"You're hopeful that your team leaders are going to put a stop to anything that gets out of hand," Dungy said. "When you have strong leaders, a lot of this doesn't get to the head coach or the GM. You've got to trust that you have those leaders."

It's too bad Martin couldn't benefit from such a basic principle in his workplace.

November 5, 2013

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