Taking a Knee is a Workplace Issue

NFL Players are Hurting Their Employer's Business

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring on the NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem thing. Personally, I don’t like it and, as a result, have changed my NFL viewing habits because of it. With that out of the way, and since this is an HR blog, I’m going to address how this relates to HR.

To me this is purely a workplace issue, not a free speech issue. The players are at their workplace when they are protesting. These protests are hurting their employer’s reputation and earnings as evidenced by the significant drop in attendance and drop in TV ratings week after week.

The players’ free speech isn’t constitutionally protected here. The constitution prevents the government from making a law that stops freedom of speech and the government is not preventing them from protesting. Their protests are causing the NFL direct financial harm by fans boycotting their games either by not attending and/or not watching.

I’ve never worked for an employer that would allow me to protest while I was at work and if I did, I’m 100% certain, I would be disciplined and/or no longer work there.

I’ve read some articles claiming their protests are a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. This one from the New York Times and this one from a pro-union blog. Their arguments are compelling but I really don’t see it as the players are not protesting their working conditions nor are they engaging in political advocacy as it relates directly to their job.

From my understanding they are protesting in support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Here is what he said when this all started:

 “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

“It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

His statement has nothing to do with working conditions or political advocacy that relates directly to the job of being an NFL player. I don’t see how these athletes are being oppressed. They’re living the American Dream. They get to play the greatest game on earth, get paid millions of dollars, are celebrities, and are worshiped as heroes by millions of fans.

Kaepernick’s protests are an attempt to bring attention to other people who are being oppressed. In fact he even said “This stand wasn’t for me” in this statement. Whatever you think of his statement and the reasons behind his protest, this has nothing to do with working conditions and political advocacy as it relates directly to their work in the NFL.

I think his reasons are admirable but he brought it to his workplace and decided to protest during our National Anthem and flag unfurling. This has caught on throughout the NFL and many of us don’t connect the two and find it offensive and disrespectful to our country and those who have fought to ensure and protect our freedoms, despite what they say to the contrary.

Now many fans are exercising their power by boycotting games causing the NFL to lose a lot of goodwill, reputation, and most importantly, revenue.

When an employee’s conduct directly hurts an employer’s business, as is clearly happening here, that employer has every right to take corrective action on the employee. The protesting NFL players are protesting while at the workplace and are causing a serious negative financial impact on their employer.

The NFL is, in my opinion, obligated to take the appropriate corrective action to protect their business.

Another Bad Leadership Decision by the Miami Dolphins

pounceyAs you may or may not know, I am a long suffering Miami Dolphins fan.  I became a Dolphin fan as a youngster in the early 1970s when the team dominated the NFL and have been loyal to them ever since. 

Last year, the Dolphins suffered through a well publicized harassment scandal involving offensive linemen Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, and Jonathan Martin.  I wrote about the scandal in several posts here at HHHR because it was a serious HR topic and it involved my favorite professional sports team – two of my worlds colliding! 

I was hoping that this year I wouldn’t need to write about the Dolphins or their harassment issues.

Unfortunately, I was wrong and here I am again. 

Coach Philbin prefers a “Leadership Council” instead of captains for his team.  Last year the team voted on who they wanted on the Leadership Council.  Turned out that two of the five members of the Council were prominently involved in  last year’s harassment scandal – Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey.  Obviously, a huge mistake that had significant implications for the 2013 Dolphins organization. 

This year, coach Philbin continued the Leadership Council but had coaches select the members instead.  The Council now consists of one or two of the most senior members of each position group and numbers 15 players. 

Believe it or not, the coaches selected Mike Pouncey. 

When I heard this, I was floored.  What were they thinking?

Sure, I get that he is the most senior member of the OL and that he is one of the best centers in the NFL but his actions and his behavior last year (and this year) are toxic to the team.  He does not deserve to be on the Leadership Council.

Let’s review his actions and behavior from the past twelve months:

  • Prominently cited in the Ted Well’s Dolphins harassment report as an instigator in the harassment. 
  • Subpoenaed to testify in the former Patriot Aaron Hernandez murder trial (Hernandez and Pouncey are friends and former college teammates).
  • Was photographed publically wearing a “Free Hernandez” hat in support of his “friend” and refused to apologize for it.
  • Is currently being sued for his alleged involvement in a nightclub fight a couple months ago.

The guy can’t seem to stay out of trouble and has a recent history of making very poor choices. 

I don’t understand the thinking process that went into the decision to reward him with a spot on the Leadership Council.  The message it sends to the rest of the team is not a good one.  The message it sends to Pouncey is that he is actually being rewarded for his previous bad behavior. 

I believe that he will continue his bad behavior and will continue to get himself into trouble, causing problems for the team.  In fact, he will be empowered to continue.  He has never really had to face any real consequences for his behavior. 

I assume the thinking is that he will learn from the other 14 members of the Council and that there will be more voices where one will not have the opportunity influence and overshadow the others, like last year. 

Based on what happened last year and the trouble that Pouncy continues to get himself into, he does not deserve to be rewarded with a spot on the council.  If the Dolphins are trying to clean up their image – an image that was seriously damaged by the scandal last year – they should not have even considered putting him on the Council. 

I’ve seen it happen many times.  The highly talented and skilled troublemaking employee is shielded from discipline and often even rewarded because they are “too valuable” to the organization.  Never once have I seen this situation end up a positive one. 

I don’t think this end well for the Dolphins.

I hope I’m wrong.  Sadly, I’m pretty sure I’m right. 

Dolphins Harassment Case: Ted Wells Issues Report Backing Martin

Well, as I fully expected, Ted Wells issued his report today backing up Martin’s claims confirming abusive harassment from Incognito and two other team mates – Mike Pouncey and John Jerry.  The report also found harassment directed at another O lineman and an assistant trainer.

The Report concludes that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.

 Wells also backs up Martin’s decision to leave the team as reasonable.

The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins — which have never before been made public — corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress. 

The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.

I am very pleased with these conclusions and I had doubt that Martin was being harassed to the point he felt he had to leave the team.  I’ve seen very similar bullying and victim behavior in my work and saw this clearly for what it was.

Dolphins Harassment Case: Philbin Wanted Incognito Cut After Golf Tourney Harassment

According to this ESPN NFL article, Ted Wells’ investigation has revealed that Dolphin coach Joe Philbin wanted Incognito cut after he was accused of harassing and paying off a volunteer at the team’s charity golf tourney in 2012.  Unfortunately, he was overruled and the team is now paying the price – and will pay a bigger price when this issue concludes.

I’ve seen this happen many times. Bad behavior from a star employee is ignored and excused.  Recommendations for disciplinary are overruled by management because the employee is too important to the organization.  Nothing ever good comes from this short sighted decision.  The star employee knows she got away with her bad behavior and will continue while, at the same time, the other employees in the organization know she is now above the rules damaging morale and hurting their productivity.

I was not happy with Philbin when this all started but now understand that he wanted to do the right thing but was overruled.  

Dolphins Harassment Case: Initial Investigation Interviews are Complete and Many Players are not Cooperating

Investigator, Ted Wells, has completed the initial round of interviews in the harassment investigation in the Incognito/Martin bullying harassment case.

The most interesting development during the first round is many players are being uncooperative with Mr. Wells.

Dolphins players are being less-than-forthcoming with investigator Ted Wells, according to sources familiar with the ongoing probe, and in some cases are refusing to cooperate at all. Owner Stephen Ross addressed the team last week and urged them to be candid and open with Wells, but that has not been the case and it remains to be seen if Wells is able to corroborate the lengthy accounts he was given from Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, the principles involved.

In my opinion, this means two things are happening – neither of which are good.

  1. Some players are protecting Incognito’s bullying behavior.  They know it was wrong but feel a duty to protect their popular teammate.
  2. Some players are afraid of speaking against in fear of retribution from others in the locker room and/or the Dolphin organization.  
The investigation has several more weeks to go and I will update with my opinions as information becomes available.  

Dolphin Locker Room Beginning to Fracture – Publically

The Sun Sentinel reported today that there are two Dolphins who will be speaking out against Richie Incognito next week.  I am certain that there has dissension in the locker room since this issue broke out but now it is starting to become public and will get much uglier.

I said this on November 5:

I am willing to bet that there are many more in the Dolphin locker room who hate Incognito but are unwilling to say anything.  Several of the big name vets are speaking out in support of him so the younger guys are keeping their mouths shut in fear of retribution.  I’m also certain that we are seeing only the “tip of the iceberg” of what is going on in that locker room.  I think it will get much worse and those who hate him will start speaking out.

Dolphins Harassment Case: HHHR Take on Lydon Murtha’s Article

A few days ago, former Dolphin OL Lydon Murtha wrote an “Insiders Story” about Incognito and Martin leading people to believe he is impartial and even going so far as to say “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”

Couple of problems with this article and Murtha’s credibility.  First, Murtha and Incognito played together on the OF for Nebraska.  They were teammates for a couple years.  Second, there is no way Murtha could have gotten to know Martin.  The 2012 Dolphin training camp started on July 27 and Murtha was cut on August 31.

Knowing these facts makes it very clear that Murtha is biased and has no credibility in this issue.

Dolphins Harassment Case: Did Team Pay Off Incognito Harassment Victim?

According to this police report, Incognito harassed a 34 year old African American female volunteer at the Dolphin annual Fins Weekend Golf Tourney on May 18, 2012 –  a few months before being selected to the team’s “Leadership” Council.

Here’s what he did:

While performing her duties, she was approached by one of the Dolphins players Richie Incognito. According to her, Mr. Incognito had been drinking and was actingvery inappropriate towards her. Ms.  states that Mr. Incognito used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. He then used the club to knock a pair of sunglasses off the top of her head. After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying “Let it rain, Let it Rain!” He finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face. 

Most damningly for the Dolphins is this little bit of information (emphasis mine):

The woman, who is black, told several media outlets she has declined to talk because she had signed a confidentiality agreement.

So it appears that the Dolphins paid the woman off to keep her quiet.  We don’t know that for sure but why else would she have signed a confidentiality agreement?

There will be a lot of turnover in the Dolphin organization before this is done.  We are only seeing the beginning…

Dolphins Harassment Case: Players Express Support for Incognito. Where is the Dolphin HR and PR Departments?

Yesterday, the media was allowed in the Dolphin locker room and, as I predicted here, a lot of players expressed their support and love for Incognito and “disappointment” of Martin.  Incognito the cool guy everybody loves while Martin is the quiet weird guy who is causing the problems.  I am a huge Dolphin fan and have been following and supporting these guys for years but my problem is Incognito has a long history of being a bully while Martin does not.

Where is the Dolphin HR and PR departments?  This is going to come back and backfire on these guys and the team in.  The Dolphin HR department should have briefed the players on harassment.  Do they even have harassment prevention training in the NFL?  I don’t know.  Even if they don’t, the smart thing for Ross and Philbin to do would have been to have the training before allowing the media to interview the players. The players may have tempered their comments with the understanding and knowledge of what bullying and harassment is.  The Dolphin PR department should have also been involved and had a session with the players giving them suggestions and advice about what and how to say things.  The players are employees of the Dolphins and are obligated to represent the organization in the best light possible.  As I said earlier, this is going to backfire on the Dolphins and the players who are publicly supporting Incognito and trashing Martin.

As I also said here, I am certain that there are players who dislike Incognito but are no even more afraid to say so.  The leaders of the Dolphin locker room have taken sides with Incognito.  Nobody is going to go against that.

What does all this mean?  Again – NO LEADERSHIP.  Or maybe worse – Bad Leadership.

Dolphin Harassment Case: More About Leadership Failure

In today’s Miami Herald, columnist Armando Salguero also believes the Dolphins seriously lack leadership which confirms my opinion from yesterday.

The Dolphins are a team sorely lacking leadership. 

It is a void as wide as a galaxy and one that doesn’t need a telescope to spot. It’s apparent from the top to the bottom of this football organization. It shows in the locker room, portions of the coaching staff — everywhere strong, wise voices are needed but are seemingly absent or mute.

He also has a very interesting take on  whether the current team can recover from this.

People speculating this saga will divide the Dolphins or splinter the locker room are not correct. Dolphins players — both black and white — agreed this week that they like Martin and love Incognito. They agreed that if both return to the locker room, they would be accepted. 

You know why there was so much agreement? Because they were encouraged to do so by Philbin during a team meeting and many of them are great followers

“It’s going to take people with great strength, great morals, fortitude and great leadership to go in there and clean up a locker room that is in disarray,” Gannon said. 

“I don’t know that they have enough of those players right now in that building.”

Maybe some real leaders will emerge and help the team recover.  Maybe not.  Maybe there are some young leaders (Tannehill) who haven’t found their voice yet because of the strong personalities of the bully leadership of Incognito and Pouncey.  We can only hope.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/06/v-fullstory/3734059/armando-salguero-beyond-incognito.html#storylink=
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/06/3734059/armando-salguero-beyond-incognito.html#storylink=cpy