SBD/November 11, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL's Bullying Investigation Likely To Take Weeks, With Results To Be Made Public

Dolphins players are at the center of an NFL investigation into locker-room behavior
NFL special investigator Ted Wells "already began interviewing" some close to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation last week and "will be in California in the coming days to interview Martin and others," according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSPORTS.com. Sources said that the interviews are "likely to be ongoing for several weeks," with the results "presented to Commissioner Roger Goodell and also made public." Sources added that Wells "has a lengthy list of interview subjects and plans to be meticulous and diligent as he probes broader issues besides just the inter-personal dynamics between Martin and Incognito, including the larger locker room culture there, how pervasive issues of bullying and harassment might be, and what role, if any the coaching staff, management, and ownership may have played -- implicit or complicit -- in the team's handling and control of workplace issues." The NFL is "taking the matter incredibly seriously." League sources said that, pending Wells' findings, the report "could result in new changes to protocols or certain language in the league's code of conduct and workplace safety regulations." Some believe that, given the "broad scope that Wells is applying to the matter," individuals like Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland "could face particular scrutiny, and Wells will be very interested in determining how much the Dolphins knew or did not know, how much they perhaps should have known and if those in power in any way fostered an environment that may have allowed things to fester." Some NFL officials are interested as to whether team Owner Stephen Ross is "in any way negligent as well," as he is "something of an absentee owner ... and numerous league sources have pointed to a leadership chasm in the organization" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/10).

BEHIND THE INVESTIGATION: SI’s Peter King reported Goodell has given Wells "all the time he needs to get this report done," but the investigation "should probably take about three to four weeks." King: "The big factor in the Wells report is that Roger Goodell is going to make it totally public. All facts in here will be known to the general public. The NFL feels like if you're going to shine a light on this you've got to be completely transparent" (“FNIA,” NBC, 11/10). In N.Y., Ken Belson notes the NFL is "likely to be interested in the content of the 1,142 text messages that Incognito said he traded with Martin in the past year" that he shared with Fox' Jay Glazer during their recorded interview, which aired yesterday (N.Y. TIMES, 11/11).

ONUS FALLS ON THE COMMISH? In N.Y., Juliet Macur writes, "Goodell should be able to create rules to prevent a similar situation from happening again." If bullying is "found, he should be aggressive about making changes, if only to protect the league’s brand." But it "took the NFL years even to acknowledge that head injuries posed a serious problem for its sport, and that was an issue dealing with life and death." So "perhaps people should think twice about putting their trust in Goodell this time around, in trying to fix this problem that upon first glance seems ingrained in the league’s culture." There is "only one sure way to rid a locker room of racial discrimination, bullying, extortion or whatever hazing-gone-bad the Dolphins may be guilty of -- and that is to change the team’s locker room culture from the inside out," which would "mean the players have to get on board." Macur: "Where are the real team leaders -- the ones who do the right thing instead of protecting their team?"(N.Y. TIMES, 11/11). In L.A., Dan Loumena writes when Incognito said that his behavior was "reflective of NFL locker-room culture, the league's latest nightmare worsened" (L.A. TIMES, 11/11). ESPN’s Cris Carter said, "When you drive through the gate and give them your ID you are in an active workplace, so all these ideas that in the locker room you can do this/that is not true. In an NFL locker room you are not allowed to act like an animal and a savage. This is a normal workplace" (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 11/10).

CALLING FOR GREATER CHANGE: In Boston, Christopher Gasper writes, "The insular and Darwinian culture of the NFL locker room is not yet ready to join the rest of society in open acknowledgment of the seriousness of bullying." That culture is "more interested in protecting locker room sanctity." What the NFL "should be concerned about is its players creating an environment that is openly hostile to the next player reporting bullying or harsh hazing tactics." The game now "must evolve past the idea that hazing, intimidating, or belittling teammates is a necessary part of NFL team-building." Gasper: "It's not. ... The NFL can’t let alleged bullying behavior become yet another reason that young parents steer their children away from football." The NFL "can't turn a deaf ear to society" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/11). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes, "Football should strive to be better than this." Eager to "grow the game to new audiences, to kids, internationally -- or even just to survive -- football needs to be better than this." Fans "don't need to be reminded of the many long-term health-care concerns" and they "don't need to be reminded that football is a sport threatened not from the outside, but from its inside, from players current and former, from parents who played and are now wary of letting their children do the same. This "is not the time for football to remind the public of its hard-headedness," but rather the "time to show the humanity" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/11). CBS’ Bill Cowher said, "Maybe its time that we bring a third-party into every building, an HR department, where any player or coach can go to if they feel like the situation is one that they cannot work in. ... You have to be forward thinking, you have to be proactive, I know the commissioner will do something like this. We've done this with concussions; we've done this with everything else" (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 11/10).
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