The two previous posts on this topic found some faults with the investigation and resulting report that hopefully did not diminish the reputation of Ted Wells – as if this corner could do so – but did point out handicaps that were foisted on his efforts from the start. It is as plain as this: an investigation is only as good as the access and cooperation that it gets. Here, Wells did not get the most. So what could have been done different to improve his results?
As can be gleaned Part 1 and Part 2, the problem with the Wells investigation centered on the fact that it was done from outside of the Miami franchise looking in on it. It did not have to be so, and triaging the matter properly would have solved that problem.
From the beginning, Bullygate matter had been an unanticipated nightmare for the National Football League. In recent years, the league has assumed the posture of being short on “separateness” and long on tolerance, diversity, and inclusion. Witness the implementation of the Rooney Rule, the proposed outlawing of the “N” word on the field of play next season, the soon-to-occur drafting of an openly-gay player, and the broadcasting of the Super Bowl around the world in native tongues as examples of this. The ticket- and merchandise-buying public is no longer made up only of knuckle-dragging white males and the NFL knows it.
When the story of the bullying in the Dolphins locker room broke and was later confirmed, an image and marketing crisis erupted. It did not look good that a team in the NFL allowed bullying – already a hot topic – of one of its black players by a white player. And although it turned out that two other black players also harassed the victim and that race was not really that much of a factor in the relationship between these four men, the news and sports media always made certain to tease the ethnicities of those involved.
The bullying and race-card heat felt by the NFL was further exacerbated by the revelation by current and former players that the behavior revealed in the Dolphins locker room was pervasive throughout the league. Despite the best marketing efforts, it looked as if the NFL and its teams were still composed of homophobic thugs and Neanderthals.
The league no doubt felt that it had to “do something” in order to prove that it was on top of situation and so it acted. It hired Wells and commissioned him to do an investigation into the internal workings of the Miami franchise. Surely it would reveal that this was an isolated incident with nothing to see here, and the NFL could close the book on the PR headache that this had become. Again, the effectiveness of the probe was compromised by its being done from the outside and with little teeth to compel cooperation.
As stated in i-Sight blog interview, the better approach could have been selected at the triaging stage. While the NFL may have wanted to take the lead on an investigation for public relations and image purposes, it should have gotten together with the Dolphins and the National Football League Players Association – its player’s union – and mapped a joint internal investigation of the bullying allegations at issue.
By bringing the Dolphins into the inquiry, the NFL could have secured better cooperation from witnesses that eventually became fuzzy on details or even openly hostile to questioning, such as the assistant trainer. As the employer, the team – and not the league – could have taken concrete steps to ensure cooperation by witnesses such as guaranteeing continued employment, protecting them against retaliation, and providing them with anonymity, where required, in return for the full disclosure of the information and evidence sought. This surely would have helped turn the tide in extracting the truth from hesitant individuals.
So too, would the involvement of the NFLPA. As the dues-receiving bargaining unit for NFL players, it is clear that the union has fiduciary duties to each player in its membership. While one might anticipate the union coming down on the side of Incognito, Jerry, and Pouncey in order to protect their rights as accused – always common where the participants are management and labor – these same fiduciary duties would require the league to protect the interests of Martin and any and all player-witnesses equally in this labor on labor conflict. This, too, would have likely served to increase cooperation by interviewees.
Putting together a better investigation blueprint that enlisted these two other organizations would made for a truly internal investigation and increased its yield of information and evidence to Wells and his team. Coming at things from the inside and with the protections for witnesses discussed above would have been more effective in getting at the truth and gaining for the NFL the bully-pulpit (no pun intended) it desired.