Friday, February 14, 2014

The Wells Report

Not the Valentine's Day gift the NFL was expecting, I'm sure.

The stark, even somewhat benign title - REPORT TO THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE CONCERNING ISSUES OF WORKPLACE CONDUCT AT THE MIAMI DOLPHINS - gives no indication of the report's contents.  But it's probably fair to say that most objective people - whether they are a sports fan or not - will be appalled and disgusted by what they are reading no later than by Page 9, which details the text messages sent to Jonathan Martin by his teammates Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey.

There will be a powerful counter-attack, which in fact has already started on Twitter.  Some will say, as in a Tweet directed this morning at Peter King, that this will contribute to the "pussification" of America.  In all likelihood, the type of person who would write something like that is the type of person who would spit on an injured player as they were being taken off the field.  As far as I'm concerned, their arguments are easily discounted.  Even in a sport that sometimes seems inhuman, there is room for humanity.  And there is a big difference between what might be called good natured trash talking between friends and teammates, and the abuse that was heaped on Jonathan Martin.

While I've yet to read every word of the report, what I have read (a substantial portion) seems eminently fair and reasonable.  It goes so far as to state that things might have ended differently for all involved, had Martin reported the abuse earlier:

“At the same time, we strongly believe that if Martin had reported the harassment to a coach or front office executive (or even his agent), the team may have been able to address his issues before it was too late. There is no question that the better course of action would have been for Martin to report the abuse. We also agree with the view, expressed by many of Martin’s teammates, that it would have been preferable for Martin’s grievances to be handled inside the Dolphins organization rather than played out in the national news media.”

But one need go only as far as the Executive Summary to get to the heart of the matter:

"In short, the treatment of Martin and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit. A young football player who has the skills to play at the highest level, and who also happens to be quiet and reserved, should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment from his teammates."

And for those who might question Martin's "manhood," the report states:

"Further, Martin's vulnerabilities do not excuse the harassment that was directed at him. That the same taunts might have bounced off a different person is beside the point. Bullies often pick vulnerable victims, but this makes their conduct more, not less, objectionable."

And in one of the most important passages of the Executive Summary, the report acknowledges that context is important:

"We also understand that context matters.  We accept that the communications of young, brash, highly competitive football players often are vulgar and aggressive, and that these players never expected their private communications with each other to be made public.  We did not approach this assignment expecting to discover behavior that society might anticipate in, say, an accounting firm or a law office.  For better or worse, profanity is an accepted fact of life in competitive sports, and professional athletes commonly indulge in conduct inappropriate in other social settings.  We also recognize that good-spirited goading often contributes to team bonding.

"But limits should exist.  Even viewed in context, some of the behavior and language discussed in this Report is inappropriate by any reasonable measure of conduct becoming of a professional athlete - and, based on what he reported, certainly was offensive to Martin."

As much as anyone else, I want the NFL to continue its unprecedented run of success.  I want to be watching football until my dying days, and the thing is, I think most of the young players get what is happening here.  Just like the players at the University of Missouri got that all that really mattered in the case of Michael Sam was whether the guy could play football.  Whether the NFL brass - the league office, the owners, the personnel men (many of whom seem to be stuck in a bygone era that has long past) - get it...well, we'll just have to wait and see.

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