With Dolphins, the Fish Rots from the Head Down
Cliff-HeadshotBy CLIFF DUNN – The Miami Dolphins organization has set the gentlemanly game of football back eons to the Triassic Period, with recent reports surfacing of a professional team-wide culture that bears no resemblance to that of the once-legendary franchise helmed in the early 1970s by the estimable Don Shula. I know: I was here for that unforgettable and undefeated 1972/1973 season.
Now the name of that team built by Shula and Joe Robbie has been blackened by lurid accounts of a bullying scandal, one that seems better suited to the Middle Ages (if ever at all) than to these more enlightened days of the 21st Century.
Two Dolphins players, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, are embroiled in a storm that threatens to blow wide open a despicable practice in the NFL that is apparently tolerated by team owners, managers, and coaching staffs, shrugged off with a “boys will be boys” attitude, one that comes straight out of an episode of “The Sopranos.”
As was reported on November 4 in the New York Times, the Left Tackle “Martin, a classics major who attended Stanford … left the Dolphins last week after an episode in the cafeteria in which teammates stood as Martin sat, the last in a string of perceived slights.”
Apparently, these “perceived slights” have been the especial handiwork of Martin’s teammate. As the Times reported, Left Guard “Incognito, a 30-year-old veteran with a reputation for dirty play and a history of rough behavior, was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins late Sunday while the team and the league investigated the matter.”
Among his other antics, the unstable Incognito apparently called Martin—both behind closed doors and to the press—“the Big Weirdo,” and, as is being reported in several news sources, subjected him to racist texts and voice messages as well as physical threats. Is this how you build a team?
In what surely is the most vulgar example of life-imitating-art-imitating-life, the Times story revealed a systemic culture across the NFL that comes eerily close to echoes a fifth season storyline on “The Sopranos” in which young gun Christopher Moltisanti (played by actor Michael Imperioli) cries the blues to mob boss Tony Soprano because tradition demands that the new guy pick up the check for the old-timers, no matter how steep the tab.
As the Times noted, “Many teams have a tradition of requiring rookies to pay the bill at an annual steakhouse dinner, with free-flowing liquor, where tabs run into the tens of thousands of dollars. One report Monday said Martin was pressured to pay $15,000 toward a trip to Las Vegas that he did not attend. In 2010, Dallas receiver Dez Bryant paid a $54,896 tab.”
Embarrassingly, in the midst of what should be a period of team-wide soul-searching (followed, one hope, by a sincere mea culpa), Dolphins Defensive Lineman Jared Odrick tweeted last week the enabling and hardly contrite comment, “Everything tastes better when rookies pay for it.”
Where was the team’s leadership through all this? Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, who suspended Incognito without citing specific reasons, told reporters, “I want you to know as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, I’m in charge of the workplace atmosphere,” before exonerating himself of any culpability in the matter.
“If the review shows that this is not a safe atmosphere, I will take whatever measures necessary to make sure that it is,” Philbin said, lamely. Beg pardon, Coach? Where were you when Martin was being subjected to the demoralizing and dehumanizing remarks and acts of his teammates—your players?
Does Philbin actually think it’s acceptable for him to abrogate his responsibility to a league blue ribbon panel? What happened to setting an example, and demanding that your players adhere to an acceptable code of conduct? Is this how you’d want your own kids to be treated, Coach? Shame on you.
As for Incognito, he seems unapologetic as ever, threatening one press critic via Twitter: “Enough is enough. If you or any of the agents you sound off for have a problem with me, you know where to find me. #BRINGIT.”
He’s right: Enough is enough.