In the past few days the number of calls and texts from former and current Miami Dolphins players staggered by the attention on the franchise has been unprecedented. The Dolphins are coast to coast. Turn on a TV or radio across this country and there’s Dolphins talk on practically every broadcast and cable station.
The Dolphins are a hit!
And it is terrible.
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That’s because our team is a big deal now for all the wrong reasons.
The team’s name? Sullied. Reputation? In the dumpster and on fire. The narrative? When is Joe Philbin being fired, when is Jeff Ireland being fired, when is Dawn Aponte losing her power, when is Stephen Ross selling?
Ross, the club’s owner, lives in New York City. You know what he had with his morning coffee on Friday if he picked up the New York Daily News? The back page of the newspaper had a picture of suspended Dolphins guard Richie Incognito holding a golf club with the headline “A-hole in one,” referencing the story about Incognito sexually harassing a black female volunteer at a team-sponsored event in 2012 — an incident the team covered up and Incognito made disappear by paying for her silence.
This on the heels of the scandal: That Incognito harassed and left a racially charged and threatening voicemail for black teammate Jonathan Martin and thus was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Martin is claiming he could not survive in a hostile work environment after one-and-half seasons with the Dolphins. Incognito and practically all his teammates believe they were simply being friends to Martin, whom they nicknamed “Big Weirdo.”
The NFL is investigating. Meanwhile, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times have written stories localizing the scandal. The New York Post and Daily News both sent reporters to South Florida to cover the story. One Post columnist told me Thursday, “My newspaper can’t get enough of this story.”
And the problem for the Dolphins is people are either disgusted or laughing now. Not with them. At them for being so embarrassing to the example of integrity set by Don Shula and others.
The Dolphins are an object of scorn and mocking. None of this is graceful. None of it has a positive side. The Dolphins are getting punked.
But don’t get the idea I think they’re victims. They are not. Yes, the media is over the top and the attention is hysterical and overblown. But the Dolphins brought this plague upon themselves. It is of their doing.
They had Incognito in a position of team leadership. Teammates, coaches and administrators failed to see any signs of wrongdoing — or at least that’s the contention. Philbin? Offensive line coach Jim Turner? No idea? The personnel department was good not only with Incognito and Martin on the team but actually counted heavily on both to be close so the team could succeed. Really?
Aponte? She meticulously edits Philbin’s postgame locker room videos but allowed the public service announcement at Sun Life Stadium that educates fans on civility and behavior to star none other than … Incognito. This is unforgivable because it was Aponte who initially took point for the club in the golf outing assault.
So she knew what kind of behavior Incognito is capable of.
That assault at an annual team event happened in view of sponsors. Philbin knew it happened yet continued to preach about the quality of the men in his locker room. He got rid of Chad Johnson after a domestic violence incident but kept Incognito after a sexual abuse incident.
The National Football Post on Friday reported Incognito called offensive line meetings at a strip club and fined players if they didn’t show up. Sure, you can chalk this up to boys being boys.
But the Dolphins allowed Incognito to be a member of the leadership council, which empowered him as a leader.
A coach, aware of the sexual assault and Incognito’s penchant for drinking and past drug use, overrides the player vote for leadership council. Philbin this week instead hid behind that vote, saying it was players, not him who made Incognito a team leader.
Look, the people within the Dolphins organization claiming complete ignorance of the apparent tension in Martin’s mind over Incognito and others are either lying — which makes them complicit — or out of touch, which makes them incompetent.
Either way, it is grounds for dismissal.
Some fans see what’s going on. And they’ve had enough. Fans have been writing to me and telling me they’re through with the franchise. Others say they’ll never buy a ticket again until major changes in leadership are enacted.
Consider that the Dolphins had 70,660 people at Sun Life Stadium for the season home opener. Then 68,342 for the second home game. Then 60,592 for the third home game. And 52,388 for the fourth home game.
Notice the trend?
Fans were abandoning this team in droves before the current scandal. You think any part of the last week is going to convince them to return?
The Dolphins failed to get public funding for upgrades to their stadium before this happened. Who’s going to vote to give them public money now, and what brilliant politician is going to champion the cause?
We’ve seen this kind of situation before. The New England Patriots had Spygate. And their reputation suffered. The New Orleans Saints had Bountygate. And their reputation suffered.
Both teams got slimed. Both teams forged ahead. Both teams mostly recovered.
But both those teams enjoyed a reservoir of goodwill the Dolphins don’t possess. The Patriots had three Super Bowl wins in their pocket. The Saints also recently won a Lombardi Trophy. The coaches and owners that presided over those franchises in the time of crisis were the same who presided over the franchise in the best of times.
So they got a pass.
The Dolphins get no pass. Ross has not presided over one winning season during his four-and-one half years as owner. Ireland has not put together one winning team during his two-plus seasons as the personnel decision-maker. Philbin’s career record is 11-13.
These facts are not in dispute. The Dolphins were troubled before this fiasco exploded.
Now this Incognito-Martin-NFL scandal is on fire. The flames are rising everywhere. And everyone on the Dolphins smells of smoke.