The Miami Dolphins are heading back to the Florida Legislature — but this time, it has nothing to do with their aging stadium.
The Dolphins on Tuesday helped introduce the Safe Athletics Education and Training Act of 2014 — a bill that would codify suggestions made by New York University researchers on ways to combat bullying.
The initiative is the boldest move yet in the team’s attempt to move past the embarrassing abuse scandal that has dominated the past four months.
The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Republican Ritch Workman of Brevard County in the House (HB 1117), and Miami Gardens Democrat Oscar Braynon in the Senate (SB 1282).
If passed, the act would do the following:
• Require the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) to adopt bylaws regarding respectful conduct.
• Prohibit bullying or harassment in intercollegiate athletic events.
• Require training and reporting in schools and that athletic participants sign an anti-bullying pledge.
• Provide that it is unlawful employment practice for a professional sports franchise to fail to take reasonable measures to prevent abusive conduct.
It’s unclear if the pledges would be mandatory, and what the consequences would be for refusing.
“It’s a pledge that acknowledges that there is appropriate and inappropriate conduct in sports,” NYU Law Dean Trevor Morrison said. “... And they will acknowledge that there are expectations of them to engage in appropriate conduct.”
The legislative action is just one of many antidotes needed to cure society of its incivility, the group said.
In an NYU white paper released Tuesday, researchers found that the ugly, embarrassing abuse that occurred within the Dolphins organization is not unique to football, but rather part of a larger phenomenon of harmful behavior in many spheres of society.
Furthermore, abusive behavior begins much earlier in life, “among adults and children in communities that tolerate various types of disrespectful behavior, from racial slurs to other forms of intolerant or intimidating conduct.”
The report went on to suggest three ways to raise the level of discourse within locker rooms:
• The development of a scholastic curriculum to educate young athletes, coaches and parents on respectful conduct.
• A uniform code of respectful conduct for adoption at all levels of youth athletics.
• A pledge in which sports participants on all levels commit, on a recurring basis, to treat others with respect, identify bullying and speak out against it.
The law attempts to do all three.
“We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another,” Ross said. “Something needs to be done so that every man and woman, young and old, can participate in sports on all levels and find a positive and meaningful experience. We will use this opportunity to make a positive change.”
The report comes less than two weeks after the NFL investigator Ted Wells concluded that Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey engaged “in a pattern of harassment” directed at not only Jonathan Martin but also vother teammates and staff. Their verbal attacks contributed to Martin leaving the team, Wells found.
Ross declined comment when asked his opinion of the report. He also still hopes to meet with Martin, but only when cleared by attorneys.
“I think he wants to talk to me, and I’m prepared to listen,” said Ross, who added that the conversation will have no impact on Martin being a Dolphin in 2014.
In the days since Wells’ report, the Dolphins have fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and trainer Kevin O’Neill for their roles in the scandal (suspensions to the players involved are likely). The NFL said Tuesday that it continues to review Wells’ findings and won’t make any further statement until that review is completed.
The bullying revelations from last fall spurred Ross — an NYU Law alumnus — to approach Morrison to discuss ways to increase civility and respect in sports. The hope is these changes might also seep into society at large.
Arthur R. Miller heads the program within the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies; he is considered one of nation’s leading law professors. Miller and Morrison both expressed gratitude to Ross for what Morrison called Ross’ “leadership in promoting a culture of dignity.”
The white paper acknowledges that while governments, schools and other social institutions have taken steps to curb bullying, these efforts are often not coordinated or thorough enough to enact real change within society.
Miller’s group opened its 22-page report by acknowledging what is obvious: The Dolphins’ toxic locker room situation “focused public attention on the unfortunate reality that a wide range of abusive, intolerant and bullying behavior occur quite often in the context of sports.”
In that way, NYU’s group sounds a bit like Dolphins long snapper and union rep John Denney, who said the following Monday:
“Ted Wells can go into any one of the 32 teams in the entire league and he is going to come out with the same investigation, same results. Every single player in this league has been bullied, if that’s what bullying is defined as.”
Denney added that he never saw any conduct that went over the line. Wells found otherwise, detailing repeated — if not constant — racial and sexual slurs leveled by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey.
However, the public and detailed reports of the abuse provided a teaching (and learning) moment, Miller’s group said. And the Dolphins’ situation fits all three criteria of bullying: harm, repetition and power imbalance.
So how can real change be enacted?
The white paper suggests crafting “an original curriculum designed to educate young athletes, coaches, and parents, a uniform code of respectful conduct for adoption at all levels of youth athletics, and a pledge in which sports participants at all levels commit, on a recurring basis, to treat others with respect, identify bullying, and speak out against it.”
The NYU report also suggests “booster shots” of anti-bullying curriculum, so it’s not a onetime lesson that’s quickly forgotten. Also, athletes and students should be involved in the curriculum’s creation to increase accountability.
All segments of the community must confront and root out abusive behavior, Miller added. Most specifically in athletics, participants, coaches, administrators and parents must be involved.
“Only a wide-angle approach of this type can provide genuine insight and guidance to participants in youth, college and amateur sports, and enhance the role of sports generally in society,” the report added.