Football / Sports

With Dolphins' bullying inquiry ended, punishment comes next

The NFL investigation into Miami's locker-room harassment scandal is over, but the fallout for the Dolphins is just beginning.

The future of center Mike Pouncey, offensive line coach Jim Turner and trainer Kevin O'Neill are uncertain given the findings of the probe, which were released Friday by independent investigator Ted Wells, a prominent New York attorney who worked on the case for four months.

Left guard Richie Incognito, who was described as the ringleader of the bullying of tackle Jonathan Martin and others, is a free agent, as is right guard John Jerry, who also was found by investigators to have harassed teammates. Neither is expected to return.

Pouncey was the other player cited by Wells for the systematic harassment of teammates. Pouncey was a Pro Bowl player last season and could be the only starting offensive lineman to return. If he were suspended by the NFL for violating its code of conduct, it would be another blow to a team trying to improve on a disappointing 8-8 season.

"If what is in the report is true -- and I think this guy has done a thorough investigation -- I think the commissioner needs to and will send the strongest of messages to let everyone know that this will not be tolerated," NFL analyst and former tight end Shannon Sharpe told USA Today. "Because what we've seen from the commissioner with Bountygate and the New Orleans Saints is he sends a message: 'This won't happen again.'"

Numerous players have been suspended for criminal acts, violations of the league drug policy or illegal hits on the field. No player is known to have been suspended by the league for mistreating his teammates.

Pouncey also could be disciplined by the league because the report said he was dishonest during the investigation.

The code of conduct explicitly bars much of the behavior Wells documented. For example: unwelcome contact, jokes, comments and antics.

Martin wasn't the only player targeted by teammates.

Andrew McDonald, now with Carolina, was named in the report as "Player A" and was allegedly harassed by teammates for being gay, even though teammates said they didn't believe he was actually gay.

McDonald received a male blow-up doll from Turner, while other players received female blow-up dolls as gag Christmas gifts.

McDonald's attorney, Brett Tessler, released a statement on Saturday acknowledging that McDonald was Player A but said he only briefly spoke to Wells and has no issues with the Dolphins or Turner.

As with Pouncey, the report said Turner was dishonest during the investigation. Turner was also criticized for trying to convince Martin to come out in support of Incognito, even after Martin had left the team and checked into a mental health facility.

A Dolphins assistant trainer was mocked for his Asian heritage by Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry, the report said. Martin told investigators that O'Neill, the head trainer, "also heard such remarks and even laughed at them from time to time."

Martin also said that while he was being harassed by teammates, O'Neill overhead it but told Martin to stand up for himself.

Wells said his interview with O'Neill was cut short because "O'Neill expressed hostility toward our investigation."

In June, O'Neill was given a national award for "service, dedication and integrity" in athletic training.

Martin is still on Miami's roster and his agent, Kenny Zuckerman, told The Palm Beach Post that he will meet with Dolphins officials at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week.

While Miami could choose to keep Martin, it might cut him or try to trade him so both the team and Martin can get a fresh start.

"We're going to meet with the Dolphins at the Combine and see what their plans are," Zuckerman said. "Right now they have his property, they have his rights.

"He will be on the field in 2014. There's no doubt. He wants to, he's ready, he's excited. He'll be somewhere this season."

Whether or not he's playing for the Dolphins, Martin may have a better shot to play in Week 1 than Incognito, Pouncey or Jerry.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has taken bold disciplinary measures in the past. In 2012, he suspended New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for the entire season for their role in "Bountygate" -- a scandal involving Saints players being paid for hard hits on opposing players.

Vilma's suspension was reduced on appeal.

In 2010, Goodell suspended Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games (which was later reduced to four games) for violating the league's "personal conduct policy." Roethlisberger was investigated for sexual assault, and although he wasn't charged, Goodell still suspended him.

If Pouncey is suspended, he could be replaced in the lineup by reserve Nate Garner, who told investigators that he was probably treated worse than Martin. He said he endured six years of abuse from teammates because they felt he was a "nerd" who liked computers and remote-control helicopters.

Guard Josh Samuda, who is no longer with the team, was also routinely ridiculed.

Former Dolphins running back Troy Stradford said that "every locker room is going to change" as a result of the Dolphins investigation and the recent decision by Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, a NFL draft prospect, to announce that he is gay.

"You can bet in training camp people in suits will be talking to players about behavior in the locker room," Stradford said. "I think players will be more aware of who they can joke with and how far they can joke. They have to change because of this incident."

(c)2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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