It remains to be seen whether the situation unfolding with the Dolphins arose from one player making an abnormal reaction to normal interactions among teammates or whether the player in question was subjected to hazing that crossed the line into harassment.
Regardless, the NFL provides players with information regarding the expected behavior among teammates. Via league spokesman Brian McCarthy, the issues of behavior in the workplace and “being a good teammate and professional” are addressed during the Rookie Symposium and during training camp each year.
The information crafted by lawyers and communicated in meeting rooms likely gets ignored or disregarded from time to time in the locker room, which while technically still a workplace has a Peter Pan quality where boys remain boys for as long as they can remain professional athletes.
In this specific case, Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin decided that he had enough of whatever was happening. After apparently spending multiple days pondering whether to blow the whistle on teammates like guard Richie Incognito or try to find a way back to the team without pointing fingers, Martin decided to stand up to a bully not by punching him in the face (which ESPN’s Mike Ditka recklessly and repeatedly has been advocating) but by going through the channels that the league instructs players who are being harassed to utilize.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy prohibits “[v]iolent or threatening behavior among employees, whether in or outside the workplace.” By responding to a potential violation of the personal conduct policy with violence, the player victimized by harassment would be violating the personal conduct policy, too.
For Incognito, who already has been suspended by the Dolphins for conduct detrimental to the team, the next question becomes whether the NFL will take action against him under the personal conduct policy. The broader question is whether the Dolphins knew or should have known about the misconduct directed to Martin, and what if anything the team can now do to clean up this mess.
Separately but perhaps even more importantly is the question of whether anyone will try to conceal the truth from the league as the investigation occurs. As we’ve seen many prior times in many other settings, the cover up is worse than the crime. Persons whose jobs currently aren’t in the balance could quickly find themselves unemployed if they do anything other than tell the truth and allow the truth to be discovered by those looking for it.