Dr. Jason Johnson
The Miami Dolphins have managed to put themselves into the national consciousness again, without even so much as making the playoffs. The abuse suffered by offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, at the hands of his teammate Richie Incognitio has managed to jump from the sports pages to regular talk on morning shows and suddenly you’ve got people who haven’t watched a snap in years and didn’t realize that there was any professional sports team in Miami that didn’t have LeBron James on it are talking about bullying, hazing, racism and NFL locker room culture. While there are a million mini-stories that come out of this Miami debacle there is one that stands out the most to me, especially in the wake of Incognito’s recent interview. When you have a good office situation, most problems, racial, or otherwise, usually end getting solved before a crisis happens.
This entire story begins just over a week ago when second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin simply left his football team after a ‘prank’ initiated by team leader Richie Incognito and other players. After going AWOL for over 24 hours and the press asking questions and the Miami Dolphins organization getting antsy Martin’s representatives spoke. The second year player out of Stanford was sick and tired of being harassed by teammates, in particular Incognito who had send hundreds of abrasive text messages and harassing phone calls to Martin, at one point even calling the young player a “Half-Nigger” and “joking” that he would slap his “Real mother”. Incognito is white, Martin is bi-racial. The resulting firestorm over the last two weeks has had the Miami Dolphins organization come out with three different statements, first supporting Incognito, then claiming they were starting and investigation then finally putting him in permanent suspension until they can finally cut him. In the meantime players on the team have been telling every news outlet that will listen that they support Incognitio over Martin, and now Incognito did a ‘tell all’ interview on Fox Sports to clear his name that would make Anthony Wiener proud. In other words, it’s a mess.
The mess isn’t because Richie Incognito is a jerk or a racist or a bully or a meathead (as he called himself). There are plenty of jerks and meatheads and worse in the NFL. The problem comes from the top down, with the organization, the Miami Dolphins themselves and their overall ineptitude as an organization. You cannot micromanage every individual relationship in an office place, but if you have a strong management system in place in your organization you can identify and minimize conflicts, save human resources and keep things moving before they become an untenable mess. Look at the Philadelphia Eagles, Wide Receiver Riley Cooper got caught threating a black woman security guard with racial slurs, the team publicly reprimanded him, players publicly agreed with that decision, he was sent to “sensitivity training” and now he’s back on the team. Is it all good in that locker room? Probably not, but the bosses handled the situation before it got worse. But you don’t have to just stay with football, this applies to any other organization. Why did Paula Deen lose millions of dollars in endorsements and sully her brand? Not because she was a racist who said racist things, it was because she ran a lousy office where she let her brother sexually harass and abuse his employees. Had Deen handled her business as a boss instead of enabling her brother she’d still be spooning out homespun artery clogging recipes on the Food Network right now. City Halls fire employees for racist emails long before the press can ask questions, television networks cut plagiarizers before the other outlets can smell the story, the list goes on and on. The Dolphins brought in Incognito, they knew his history of being kicked off other teams for violent and inappropriate behavior, the coach and general manager had been contacted by Jonathan Martin’s agent who told them of Incognito’s abuse and why it was a problem. They had a hundred different ways to have diffused this situation before it below up in their faces. But they didn’t. And now a Dolphins team that is 4-4 halfway through the season and still in the playoff hunt just lost two offensive linemen and will likely flame out by the season’s end.
There are still several cleats left to drop in this story, since we have not heard from Jonathan Martin publicly or seen his full 10 page report on his abuse as a Dolphin. Regardless of how this works out for him however there is no reason to believe that problems like this won’t continue with the team. Management, from the coaches to the team president have shown that they can’t come up with a coherent message, can’t keep their own team in line and worse can barely keep abreast of what is going on between two of their highest paid critical employees. Any organization that sloppy deserves whatever bad press they can get. Mabye Jonathan Martin is better off leaving the Dolphins for good, they clearly don’t know how to keep their own house in order.