Ross' failure: Not speaking to the players

If you want to understand how Martin saga happened, look what's happening

Xs and Omar: Are the Dolphins a Well Coached Team? (11/13/13)

If you want to understand how the Dolphins stumbled into the Jonathan Martin disaster, look at how they're stumbling through the handling of it. Look at the mess they're making of this mess.

This is a time that demands first-rate thinking, righteous anger and a deft touch with words. But the same mistakes of negligence that are part of Martin's complicated story are being made in plain sight in its aftermath.

And it starts right at the top, right with owner Steve Ross, a business genius who sincerely wants to do the right thing. No one disputes that. And this is a difficult subject to navigate because of the subject matter and uncertainties.

There are issues with those ideas, as you'll see. But the biggest issue is he talked to everyone in the sports world except the people he should have talked with first.

Ross never talked to his Dolphins players. And he still hasn't.

Isn't that the central topic in this story? Talking with players. Keeping lines of communication open. He wasn't going to talk to players in the hours before Monday's game. But in the days before?

"Someone wasn't being heard that needed to be heard,'' Ross properly stated as the core of this nightmare.

Yet here he was again showing how that can happen. Players were informed of Ross's statements by the media after Monday's game. They had never heard of any formed committee.

They were stunned their boss wanted to meet with Martin but only reluctantly with that national villain, the baby-faced bully, Richie Incognito. They'd never heard a word from Ross.

"Dude,'' one player said, "you know more than me."

Here's that same story told in another, smaller way: Coach Joe Philbin told reporters Tuesday the players' leadership council was meeting with him that night. This was interesting since Incognito's place on it and the role of a lack of team leadership in this story.

But when asked about the impending meeting two council members, defensive end Cameron Wake and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, said they had no idea one was called. No one told them. Again, huh?

And, again, doesn't this suggest the Dolphins haven't learned enough from this episode? Maybe these fundamentally clogged lines of communication explain why Martin felt uncomfortable approaching anyone about a sensitive topic.

Everyone made the pop-culture touchstone of this story to be Jack Nicholson's "Code Red" line in "A Few Good Men." But it's really the more old-school one of the sheriff in "Cool Hand Luke," saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Ross's first act in this wasn't a pragmatic one of reaching Martin or his family for answers. His first move was to call the NFL to investigate his team and then to form a committee to make its own finding.

That sent the message the owner didn't trust himself or his people. And maybe he shouldn't. But if he can't trust them, should Martin have?

Ross knows more about the details than we do. He should as the owner. But to blame Ireland for all this seems premature at best and convenient scape-goating at worst. And to anoint Philbin a saint at the same time, as Ross did? Odd.

"It has to start with the coaches and the general manager creating an atmosphere of a safe environment," one of Ross's blue-ribbon committee members, Tony Dungy, said about the Martin situation in his day job on NBC-TV.

Then there's the oddly scheduled meeting with Martin. Ross didn't communicate with the NFL about this. Anyone who watches NCIS knows the first rule in an investigation is to keep the involved parties apart.

So, when it heard this, the NFL naturally said Ross couldn't meet with Martin until after NFL investigator Ted Wells did. Again, it's a pattern of faulty communication.

Jonathan Martin holds the key to this saga. One significant question is why he didn't tell anyone inside the Dolphins of his problems. Maybe how the Dolphins are communicating in its aftermath helps explain why.

 

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