It took far too long for Miami Dolphins own Steven Ross to publicly address the bullying scandal that has engulfed his team and surely ruined whatever is left of its season. And when he finally did, he was predictably “appalled” because “We couldn’t be going through a worse nightmare.”
He also was spurred to action and said, “We want to get this resolved.”
But as usual in these situations, the man in charge is not only too late with his appearance, but his initial actions fell far too short of what needed to be done. Because if he really wanted to get the situation resolved he should’ve entered with a broom and swept out everyone in a leadership position. No matter what else comes out of this situation, and no matter what GM Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin (pictured above) actually knew about what was happening, this much is perfectly clear to everyone:
In a locker room and an organization that apparently desperately needed leadership, Ireland and Philbin showed none.
It’s not that either is necessarily to blame for what occurred — the now-famous incidents between disgraced lineman Richie Incognito and his linemate, Jonathan Martin, who quit the team. This isn’t about whether actual bullying occurred – as it seems clear that it did – and whether it was ordered by the coaching staff or not.
Because the truth is this story hasn’t fully played out yet. It has changed many times already, and as soon as the lawyers and spokesman got involved, the accusations started flying from all directions. When scandals break, there’s usually a lot of truth that emerges early in the chaos, but there’s also a lot more that comes out later on.
But if I’m Ross, the one question I’m asking is this: How in the world did the people in charge let this get this far? And if they really didn’t know it was going on, how is it possible they didn’t? Both Ireland and Philbin are responsible either by their actions or their inactions, their knowledge or their ignorance. They weren’t just hired to win. They were hired to run an organization professionally, to bring in the right people and to deal with things when they go wrong.
It seems on just about every one of those points, both men seriously failed.
Ross – a pragmatic businessman – preferred the cautious approach. He said he waited to speak so he could learn more facts. And he’s going to wait to act, too. He took a first step by forming a Mt. Rushmore-like committee to establish a Dolphins code of conduct – Tony Dungy, Dan Marino, Don Shula, Jason Taylor and ex-Jet Curtis Martin all signed on.
Then he promised more unspecified “changes” would come.
“We want to put this behind us,” Ross said. “We want to do what’s right. We’re waiting for all the facts to arrive. Changes need to be made. We need to look at ourselves internally. I know I'm capable of overreacting.”
Maybe his lawyers or advisors or friends talked him out of overreacting, but he could have made a strong statement by doing just that. Clearly, he’s put Ireland on the firing line – especially since he’s been in the line of fire before – but Ross went out of his way to praise Philbin, saying, “I have total, utmost confidence in Joe Philbin as our coach.”
Philbin, by all accounts, is a good man. Some in the NFL believe he is a rising star as a head coach, too – or at least he was before this scandal, from which he’s unlikely to emerge unscathed. The reality is, whether he knew about it or not – whether it was ordered by his staff or not - it happened under his watch. And at some point everyone involved knows he’s going to pay for it with his job.
So Ross should’ve done that long before the disgraced Dolphins took the field for another game. He should’ve admitted the men he hired somehow allowed his franchise to become a circus to the point where he had to reach outside to find five men to tell his players how to behave. A coach and GM may not be able to know everything that happens underneath them, but they’re responsible for the behaviors that occur underneath them.
They’re also responsible for forming a chain of command. And in this case the command started down low with Incognito, a notorious bad guy who was once voted the dirtiest player in the NFL, in a hard-to-fathom leadership position. If his relationship with Martin had soured to the point where Martin was about to quit the team, Philbin’s assistants had to know about it and get that message up the chain. If Martin’s personal or psychological issues had grown so extreme, the same thing had to happen.
Instead, whatever was happening between them was allowed to fester. Maybe the coaches encouraged it. Maybe Ireland did too. Maybe the real truth hasn’t come out yet.
But the inescapable truth is that the men in charge couldn’t control a brushfire that eventually turned into a gigantic swatch of scorched Earth. They’re responsible for what happens beneath them. They’re responsible for the mess. They’re responsible, ultimately, for two ruined careers and a franchise that’s become a laughingstock. They’re responsible for the fact that there’s as much talk about the franchise these days on CNN as there is on ESPN.
So while Ross fights his impulses and chooses to be patient, he should’ve given in and just cleaned house and started over. Because at some point, it’s pretty clear to everyone that he’ll have a new GM and a new coach before his franchise ever has a chance to return to respectability.
It would be a stronger statement and a better decision if he’d start the rebuilding and healing process right now.
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN