Friday, February 21, 2014

The Incognito-Martin Saga, and It's Impact on the NFL

The past week has not been a good one for the National Football League.

Anticipated for a while now, the findings in the investigation of the Jonathan Martin Case by Ted Wells of Paul,Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP are now out, and it paints a very dark picture about the locker room environment of the Miami Dolphins, and the culture NFL players participate in in general.

When Jonathan Martin came out and told the world about how he was verbally abused by teammate Richie Incognitto it changed the dynamic of how we perceive the NFL. While Martin had every right to press charges, and proceed with a lawyered up investigation, we have to take note to the fact that we the fans, and we the media are partly to blame as well.

Why?

Because we crave the National Football League 24/7. We want as much coverage of the NFL as we possibly can get our hands on. From the NFL combine; off-season workouts; live television shows dedicated to the regular season schedule release; live television shows when a team, or team(s) change their uniform; the draft, and of course training camp; everything and anything there is to know about an NFL team -- minus of course the play on the field -- we grasp at it like the old horse to a carrot trick.

Just look at the Michael Sam situation as another example. Sam, a college linebacker at Missouri, who is slated to be a late second round, if not third round draft pick, came out that he was in fact gay. Perhaps he did this out of fear about meeting similar harassment as Jonathan Martin or "Player A;" or perhaps he came out with a cunning knowledge that the media would grab his story like a piece of fruit, and make him a "victim" that has to be drafted because he's "socially hip." Sam is now a known name for all the wrong reasons. 

Just life in the hit and run NFL media.

So we have to wonder why we get offended when the grim reality of the game comes pouring out onto our television sets?

From Rex Ryan's creative use of the F-word in "Hard Knocks," to Richard Sherman's post-game rant, and everything in between like Terrell Owens' meltdown in Philly, to Ben Roethlisberger, twice in the news for all the wrong reasons, and Aaron Hernandez's arrest and confinement for a homicide. Then the serious stories about post career concussion syndrome, lawsuits over concussions, and, now this, the Jonathan Martin fiasco.

It's not a pretty picture, but think about it for a second, 15-20 years ago most of these stories would never have gotten much press, because 15 years ago there was no Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, blogs, and the NFL Network. The league disappeared after the Super Bowl, and was never heard from again until late July when teams opened training camp. Yes, there was life in February and March other than the lives of NFL players during the off-season.

The Jonathan Martin case is another sad chapter in recent NFL history, where the public finds out all the gory details and then some about locker room hazing. By no means am I defending the perpetrators in this case. Richie Incongnito and his comrades, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey are disgusting men. They are an insult to their profession and should never, ever play another down in the National Football League.

Their actions alone are the reason why, now, people are going to look at the NFL through tainted lenses.

But it is not just the credibility of these men that should come into question, it is the credibility of the Dolphins coaching staff as well.

Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin conducted an uncomfortable press conference in which he said he had no idea that there was workplace harassment taking place in his locker room, yet took responsibility for setting the standard in the locker room. This coming from a guy who made Inconginto a leader on his football team.

Philbin promises to change the dynamic in the locker room -- but let's be fair, how is it that this guy still has a job? Philbin should have been fired along with his entire staff. Only GM John Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman were fired after the season. It was not until the Martin report was released last week that offensive line coach Jim Turner and trainer Kevin O'Neil were fired after it was revealed they were involved.

Philbin should be gone, and it will take more than a nice 9-7 second place season for him to save his job in 2014. I'd expect him to be the first head coach fired this season, especially if Miami gets off to a slow start this year.

It's a sad day in the National Football League, and you can rest assure that the Jonathan Martin story, and the like are not going away any time soon. I bet it will only be a matter of time before other stories of NFL locker room harassment come out.

Sad. Just very, very sad.

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