Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross spoke publicly for the first time about the mushrooming scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, and expressed embarrassment for the negative image his franchise has brought down on the NFL.
“We couldn't be going through a worse nightmare,” Ross admitted, referring to the nation's first reported case of bullying in professional sports.
Ross plans to meet with Martin on Wednesday, possibly in California, where he's with his family receiving treatment for emotional issues. His goal is to learn all the details that led to his departure from the team two weeks ago. Martin alleges that the Dolphins created a hostile working environment, which featured teammates, most notably Incognito, bullying him for the past two seasons.
Incognito claims the two were close friends and talked to each other using abusive language regularly.
“We want to get this resolved. We want to put this behind us,” said Ross, who requested the NFL conduct an independent investigation, probing his organization in a review that will be made public once concluded. “We want to do what’s right.”
Ross said a lot of stories and speculation have been circling since the scandal began. There's uncertainty about Martin and Incognito’s relationship and about the team’s locker room culture. Ross admitted he’d usually rushed to react, but this time he’s taking a cautious approach when it comes to handling this saga.
“We’re waiting for all the facts to arrive,” Ross said. “Changes need to be made. We need to look at ourselves internally....I know I'm capable of overreacting.”
The Dolphins have taken a four initiative approach to addressing the organization’s crisis, Ross said. The first was requesting the NFL investigation.
“There has been a lot of information pushed out to the public and we don't know what happened and what didn't happen yet,” said Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel. “We are committed to learning the facts and discovering the truth.”
The second involves talking directly to Martin, getting a first-hand account of his experience with the Dolphins since becoming the team’s 2012 second-round pick.
The team has also formed a advisory committee that will create a code of conduct for the locker room. Don Shula and Tony Dungy, two accomplished former head coaches, are on that committee. Also on the committee are Dan Marino and Jason Taylor, two of the franchise's elite players, and Hall of Fame tailback Curtis Martin.
Ross spoke about the possibility of expanding that committee to seven members.
The final initiative is to have the team’s executives – General Manager Jeff Ireland, coach Joe Philbin, Garfinkel, and Dawn Aponte, vice president of football administration – review the team’s policies.
“I know that I want our workplace to be the best in the NFL,” said Ross, who has always pushed for a first in-class organization since becoming the franchise's majority owner in 2009.
Ross spoke highly of Philbin, praising the culture he created, and how he ran the team. But Ross omitted praise for Ireland, who has held his position since 2008.
Before this season Ross gave Ireland a one-year extension to his expiring contract, but that likely won’t stop Ross from removing Ireland considering former head coach Tony Sparano signed a extension months before he was fired in 2011.
NFL Players Association director DeMaurice Smith went on ESPN and said “certainly we know the history of this GM (Ireland) with other issues,” referring Ireland asking Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute during the 2010 draft process.
When pressed about Incognito’s future with the team, Ross said he planned to talk to the team’s suspended starting left guard after he spoke to Martin. However, he admitted there’s no room for the use of racial slurs inside the locker room. Incognito admits to calling Martin the N-word in a transcript of a voice mail the Stanford graduate made public.
“I apologize to the fans for being in this position,” said Ross, who attends every Dolphins game. “But I know we'll be better coming out of this.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun