SBD/November 7, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Appoints Attorney Ted Wells To Investigate Dolphins Bullying Scandal

Incognito (r) allegedly used racial epithets on Martin and bullied him
The NFL has appointed Ted Wells, one of the top defense lawyers in the country, to "investigate the allegations of workplace misconduct" around the Dolphins, a sign the league "wants to reassure the public that it is taking the matter seriously," according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Wells will "lead an independent investigation and make his findings public." He previously led a "special investigation into allegations of sexual harassment" on Syracuse Univ.’s men's basketball team and was hired by the NBPA to "look into allegations of inappropriate financial dealings at the union." His report "led to the ouster" of NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter. St. John's Univ. School of Law professor David Gregory said that whatever Wells "finds, the Dolphins could be dragged into a legal fight because the case involves allegations" that G Richie Incognito bullied OT Jonathan Martin and used racial epithets (N.Y. TIMES, 11/7). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib notes Wells was "prepared to defend the NFL" in its concussion case with over 4,000 former players before the suit was settled (PALM BEACH POST, 11/7). Dolphins coach Joe Philbin yesterday said, "If the review reveals anything that needs to be corrected, we will take all necessary measure to fix it and ensure that this doesn't happen again." Philbin later said that he "hasn’t been given an indication of how much time the investigation will take." Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross said, "We take this situation seriously. As the owner, I am committed to creating a professional environment for all of the members of the Dolphins family. Once the review is completed and I have all of the facts, we will respond accordingly" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/7).

CHANGE IN PLANS: PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio reported the move to appoint Wells to the case is "different than what the NFL had planned to do." The league initially "intended to delegate the investigation" to Senior VP/Labor Policy & Gov't Affairs Adolpho Birch ("PFT," NBCSN, 11/6). ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg said Wells' appointment to investigate the Dolphins is the "first real action the NFL has taken” regarding the situation, and the league “got this exactly right.” Greenberg noted, “By having their own people investigate the situation in New Orleans with the bounty program, I think that created a million different problems.” Greenberg said of Wells not being tied to the NFL, “This needs to be handled, I think, exactly this way by outside council, by some sort of exterior people. Bring them in, let them prepare a report and let the chips fall where they may” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 11/7). Meanwhile, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the NFLPA is "planning on meeting with the agents who represent" Martin and Incognito. The league also is "trying to set a foundation and a safe place where people can feel comfortable and safe coming forward without fear of retribution in terms of their job status with the organization" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 11/6). 

THE HITS KEEP COMING: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes the "hits keep on coming ... for the mighty NFL." President Obama before the Super Bowl said that if he "had a son, he wouldn’t want him to play football," followed by 29 players being arrested in the "first five months after the big game." That does not include Aaron Hernandez being charged with murder. Last month, it was the release of  “League of Denial,” the "book and PBS documentary on the league’s systematic denial that repeated head shots could cause concussions and brain damage." That came two months after the league paid the $765M settlement to the 4,200 ex-players who "accused the NFL of failing to properly educate them about the risk of head injury" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/7). ESPN N.Y.'s Ian O'Connor wrote the Dolphins' "horror show is the last thing the NFL needed in the middle of its concussion crisis, with the 'League of Denial' book and PBS documentary throwing new light on the hazards of the game and inspiring mothers to send their children to other fields of play" (ESPNNY.com, 11/6). In DC, Thomas Boswell writes under the header, "Richie Incognito Bullying Allegations Are The Latest In Long List Of NFL Problems." Boswell: "Especially in the last couple of years, the deluge of ugly, even horrific news surrounding the NFL has become a source of shock, chagrin and even critical self-examination for many of us." The NFL "doesn’t have a PR problem," it has a "reality problem." This problem "may be a grave one." Every month -- "and it seems every few days -- the NFL is inundated by new, barely suspected revelations" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/7). Meanwhile, in Toronto, Cathal Kelly notes the Martin-Incognito situation has "gotten far more reaction, far more quickly" from the league than the concussion problem -- and "that’s killing people" (TORONTO STAR, 11/7).

TAKING IT SERIOUS: In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano asks, "Why allow any hazing when it’s clear some NFL players don’t know where to stop?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/7). SPORTS ON EARTH's Tomas Rios writes, "If the result of the NFL's investigation is anything less than an outright ban on any and all hazing then they're only guaranteeing that Incognito's successors will go to greater lengths to keep their sadism under wraps" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 11/7). In Detroit, Drew Sharp writes the bullying case "exposed a side of the NFL that the league would prefer stay behind closed doors." Sharp: "We accept the ugliness when we see the finished product. But that doesn’t mean we want to know how that product’s prepared" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/7).

OUT OF CONTROL? SPORTING NEWS' David Steele wrote under the header, "Dolphins Proof The NFL Under Roger Goodell's Watch Is Out Of Control -- And Getting Worse." The NFL is the "most popular sport in this country, but it’s out of control." If Goodell "doesn’t want America to think he likes it that way, he’ll put a stop to it," and not "in the ways he’s tried." The Dolphins situation "has to be the last straw." Steele: "Apparently, bounties, head-hunting, waves of offseason arrests, an epidemic of drunk-driving incidents, murders, and teammates recklessly endangering opponents and teammates alike, on and off the field, were never the breaking points." There "have to be real consequences for making the choices they make" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/6). In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes under the header, "Fans Need To Stand Up To The Richie Incognitos Of The NFL." Dwyre: "We may think that this one is in the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell, but it is not." He will "stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing -- and how hard -- and navigate through the politics of his owners and the players' association before arriving at punishment and procedure that will sound good and be most expedient." So it is "in our hands." Fans can "stop buying tickets to these games, stop sending NFL TV ratings through the roof by responding like Pavlov's dogs with remote TV controls, stop buying the products of the sponsors who advertise on the game telecasts" (L.A. TIMES, 11/7).

COULD THIS HURT LEAGUE'S POPULARITY? The San Jose Mercury News' Mark Purdy was asked whether the Martin-Incognito situation could hurt the NFL's popularity, and he said, "I don't know what it would take for the Teflon NFL to really absorb a body blow." Purdy added, "It would almost have to be something along the lines of what happened at Penn State or some really just awful, horrible thing like that ... because the NFL really does seem bulletproof. I don't think people care that much about the concussions. We talk about it but the fans keep coming back. It would have to be something just totally off the charts for the NFL to lose popularity." CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said the "only thing that's going to slowly chip away at its popularity is going to be if parents decide over the long-term -- and we're talking 20-30 years -- where they're just going to say, 'I don’t want my kid playing football.'" Ratto said in the "immediate future, there's too much money and too many people who are sort of eating at the trough, so there's way too many special interest groups who need the NFL to thrive" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 11/6).
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