Harassment Not Part of the NFL Playbook

Professional football players are tough. They have to be to run at full-speed while wearing heavy gear, slam full-force into 300-pound opponents and have six times that poundage pile on top of them when they are tackled. However, the extraordinary physical strength of a professional player may not protect him from the emotional anguish of regular taunting, harassment and ridicule by the members of his team and his coaches. Even under the worst of circumstances, speaking out in this machismo environment quickly pegs even the strongest of men as wimps by their peers and superiors.

But someone recently broke the silence. Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin accused his teammates of severe hazing and bullying. In response, the NFL commissioned litigation attorney Ted Wells and his law firm to conduct an independent investigation into workplace conditions of the Miami players. The resulting 148-page document found such inappropriate conduct as racial slurs, racially derogatory language, homophobic name-calling, sexually explicit photos, improper physical touching and offensive remarks about Mr. Martin’s sister and mother. In the introduction to its publication of the Wells Report, The Washington Post cautions readers, “WARNING: Document contains extremely graphic language.”

The Wells Report drew the following conclusions:

  • Mr. Martin was the subject of persistent harassing comments
  • The harassment contributed to Mr. Martin’s mental health problems
  • The harassment is considered workplace bullying
  • The harassment extended to other Miami Dolphin personnel
  • The harassing conduct resulted in Mr. Martin quitting the team
  • Mr. Martin was truthful about the allegations he made
  • It is not a defense that this type of environment represented the culture of the Miami Dolphin offensive line
  • It is not a defense that Mr. Martin was friends with his harassers
  • Verbal abuse was a violation of the team’s policy
  • Mr. Martin did not report the abusive behavior to the Dolphin organization
  • The Miami Dolphin’s head coach did not know of the abusive conduct
  • The organization has developed a plan to improve workplace conduct policies that the report calls commendable

Mr. Martin’s decision to speak up rather than put up with the harassment took a lot of guts. His brave actions are likely to have widespread impact on the workplace conditions of teams throughout the NFL.

If you are the target of workplace harassment in New York, demand justice. An experienced employment law attorney can explain your rights and help you put an end to mistreatment at your job.

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