incognito-bullying

New York attorney Ted Wells, the primary author of a textured investigative report into allegations of pervasive bullying involving Miami Dolphins players, probably never envisioned penning a document that included some forth of the word “bitch” 23 times.

But that is just a sample of what readers will absorb when perusing the 144 page document officially titled “Report to the NFL Concerning Issues of Workplace Conduct at the Miami Dolphins.” The Wells Report includes hundreds of text messages verbatim, leaving the explicit language intact. Tomas Rios described the report as a “damning document.” Emily Bazelon labeled the Wells Report as the “best report on bullying” she has ever read.

A senior partner at the Manhattan law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Ted Wells was hired by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on November 6, 2013. He was commissioned to “direct an independent investigation into issues of workplace conduct at the Miami Dolphins and prepare a report.” It was widely-known that Wells’s focus would be on teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, both offensive linemen. Martin’s decision to leave the team mid-season was prompted, fully or partially, because of purported bullying instigated by Incognito. Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins shortly after Martin’s departure.

Wells completed his report in just over three months, publicly releasing it on Valentine’s Day.

This was not the first time Ted Wells had delved into high-profile, sensitive topics. A graduate of both Harvard’s law school and business school, Wells represented Citigroup, Bank of America, and pharmaceutical giant Merck in litigation. He has defended a veritable who’s-who of white collar criminal defendants and political figures embroiled in scandal, a list that includes Michael Milken, Scooter Libby, and Eliot Spitzer. The NFL-Dolphins engagement was not Wells’s first foray into sports scandals either. He recently investigated allegations of sexual harassment involving the Syracuse University basketball team and claims of mismanagement pertaining to the National Basketball Players Association, the NBA players’ union.

The Wells Report checks in at 39,880 words, making it shorter than four well-known cousins – (i) the Dowd Report pertaining to Pete Rose (41,002 words); (ii) the Mitchell Report about doping in baseball (106,352); (iii) the Freeh Report’s investigation into Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University (55,113); and (iv) the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s Lance Armstrong Report (60,884). The relative brevity of the Wells Report does not result in any lack of detail, however.

Some may conclude that the Wells has too much detail. The report’s stand-alone website cautions that the “language and behavior described in the report are extremely vulgar.”

Interested parties not inclined to devote hours to the entire tome can simply scan the truncated table below for ten seconds and leave with a decent indication of the underlying subject matter. Numerical counts for select words are summarized below.

vulgar words

Wells specifically posits regarding the language. In the report’s background section, he explains:

We have not used euphemisms, or toned down racist, sexually explicit, misogynistic or homophobic references.  The actual words must speak for themselves, for they are crucial in understanding how the players and others interacted, and they show why we concluded that some of the behavior of Martin’s teammates exceeded the bounds of common decency, even in an environment that often features profanity and mental and physical intimidation (p. 7).

The report does include optimistic portions. For example, Wells posits that “Martin has expressed a desire to continue his NFL career, and we hope that he will have the opportunity to do so” (p. 5).  It is a hope others share too.

In addition, the Wells Report has the potential to serve as a teachable moment in future cases of workplace harassment both in and out of the sports industry. The underlying pattern is so extreme that the report’s methodology could be a model for other entities facing allegations of systematic harassment between and among its employees. Like the Dowd Report’s connection to gambling and the Mitchell Report’s nexus to doping, the Wells Report will likely be remembered for effectuating change in policies related to workplace conduct.

[image via wikimedia]