NFL must address this sad lack of leadership

  • Even when it became clear that tackle Jonathan Martin couldn't or didn't know how to stand up for himself, nobody with the Miami Dolphins had the courage to step in.

    Even when it became clear that tackle Jonathan Martin couldn't or didn't know how to stand up for himself, nobody with the Miami Dolphins had the courage to step in. Associated Press

Updated 2/16/2014 7:14 AM

It's not exactly the week that changed the NFL.

It's not quite the invention of the forward pass.


But it is certainly the advent of forward thinking for a league that's been culturally stuck in a different millennium.

First, there was the coming out of an openly gay NFL prospect, Michael Sam, which will make the NFL combine and draft a focus like never before.

Then, there was the Ted Wells report on the Dolphins, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the timing of which couldn't have been better for Sam as he looks forward to gaining acceptance in an NFL locker room.

If we're to believe the Wells report -- and some of it regarding Miami management is unbelievable -- Roger Goodell is going to come down hard on some of the people involved, and nothing like the Incognito abuse will ever be tolerated again.

To believe that Incognito is a psychopath -- incapable of remorse while abusing another human being -- is easy after reading the full report.

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But to read the report also makes it difficult to think the Dolphins' coaching staff -- specifically head coach Joe Philbin -- didn't know what was happening. The abuse was so widespread and consistent it seems unlikely that anyone with the Dolphins didn't know about it, let alone the man in charge.

The Wells report concludes that Philbin knew nothing. If that's the case, he might be the first coach in NFL history completely unaware of what was happening in his locker room.

Either Philbin knew and has somehow escaped culpability, or he's the most disinterested coach of all time.

Either way, this is an enormous failure of leadership. Either way, Dolphins ownership -- and maybe ever Roger Goodell -- ought to wonder how Philbin wound up in that position, and whether he ought to retain it.

Talk to NFL players and they'll tell you that position coaches know everything about their players, and there's lots of evidence in the Wells report that the offensive line coaches were aware of the abuse.


The investigator determined that line coach Jim Turner was not frank during his interview, and even participated in taunting a Dolphins player. He also repeatedly urged Martin to defend Incognito after Martin departed.

Assistant offensive line coach Chris Mosley resigned during the season -- about a month before Martin left -- and the team has yet to disclose the reason.

Martin told NBC last month, "Members of the organization knew I was struggling. I had some conversations with my coaches immediately above me."

So his line coaches knew, which means all the coaches probably knew, and we're to believe that the head coach knew nothing?

Head coaches have spies everywhere. Most want to know every detail about every player and every problem. But Joe Philbin, amazingly, knew nothing.

One of his players was in complete crisis and on the verge of collapse. Martin tried to reach out and no one heard him -- or wanted to listen.

A huge majority of NFL players believe that Martin should have stuck up for himself, but when it became clear that this was someone who couldn't, or didn't know how, or couldn't figure out how without ruining his life and career, Incognito only increased his abuse and no one -- no one -- with the Dolphins had the courage to step in and end it.

At some point, it wasn't about football anymore.

At some point, it wasn't about the culture anymore.

At some point, human beings recognize when another is unable, and the normal human reaction is to stick up for those who can't stick up for themselves.

This did not happen in Miami.

It was a failure of leadership. It was a failure of friendship. It was a failure of men to act like men.

It's despicable.

Roger Goodell prides himself on being the top cop who acts aggressively and decisively.

If the Dolphins don't take appropriate measures, here's hoping Goodell lives up to his reputation and holds responsible those who failed to act responsibly.

Here's hoping he does what's right.

Maybe then, Jonathan Martin will get another chance to play football.

Maybe then, more crucially, he can start living his life again.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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