An independent investigation has concluded that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin was bullied and harassed by team mates, forcing him to leave the team midway through the season.
Ted Wells, an attorney who was retained by the National Football League to investigate Martin’s abrupt departure from the Dolphins last fall, concludes in his report that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, “engaged in a patterns of harassment directed at not only at Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.” He named Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey.
The report states that Martin was “taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.” The report alleges the assistant trainer was the object of racial slurs and the offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching.
The Martin case raises the question of whether the NFL tolerates abuse on the theory that it dehumanizes and “toughens up” players, making them more savage on the playing field.
The Wells report, however, barely acknowledges the role of the Dolphins or the NFL in the matter, even though these organizations appear to have tolerated the locker room’s culture of abuse that is laid bare in the report.
The report concludes: “As all must surely recognize, the NFL is not an ordinary workplace. Professional football is a rough, contact sport played by men of exceptional size, speed, strength and athleticism. But even the largest, strongest and fleetest person may be driven to despair by bullying, taunting and constant insults. We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people.”
Martin reportedly did not report the harassment to the NFL because he didn’t want to be a “Judas.”
The report criticizes Dolphins Coach Jim Turner for discouraging complaints. Although Turner denied it, the report states, “The evidence shows that Turner was aware of the “Judas” concept and that he had discussed its meaning with the linemen, explaining how Judas had betrayed Jesus Christ and defining Judas as a “snitch.”
Many employers engage in or tolerate strategic bullying to accomplish an organizational goal. For example, some unscrupulous employers seek to downsize without paying unemployment compensation or other benefits.
Surveys show that one in every three or four workers in the United States are bullied and harassed, and many suffer potentially serious emotional and physical damage. Unlike many other industrialized countries, no law exists in the United States requiring employers to insure their workplace is free from what some have called “emotional terrorism.”
Victims of workplace bullying often have little resource.
Press attention may compel the Dolphins to discipline Martin’s antagonists on the basis of a general company anti-harassment policy. Many employers do not make that choice, leaving victims vulnerable to emotional trauma until they quit like Martin or are fired.
This blog advocates a national response to workplace bullying that permits any victim of a hostile workplace environment to seek the protections now available only to protected classes (ie. race, sex) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.