Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey, a third-year player named to his first NFL Pro Bowl this season, was named on Friday in Ted Wells’s independent investigation into harassment claims leveled against the Miami Dolphins and its players by tackle Jonathan Martin as a key contributor to the player’s issues.
Pouncey is named often in the 148-page report, which lists him as one of three players who “engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Martin” but also two other employees including a young unnamed offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.
Pouncey is described as a one who tended to follow the lead of Richie Incognito, the primary instigator, and likely would not have taken things as far had Incognito not been present in the locker room.
“The evidence establishes that persistent harassment by Incognito, [John] Jerry and Pouncey contributed to Martin’s decision to leave the team,” wrote Wells. “Nevertheless, although Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey verbally harassed Martin, we find that they did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.”
The following are among the accusations levied against Pouncey (often with other players) based on evidence found by Wells through interviews, text messages, first-hand accounts and other forms of communication:
- “Repeatedly and persistently made graphic, sexually explicit comments about Martin’s sister.”
- “Made derogatory comments about Martin and his [other] family members,” including his mother.
- “Sometimes taunted Martin by accusing him of not being ‘black enough.’”
- “Frequently taunted [the unnamed offensive lineman] with homophobic insults.”
- Touched the unnamed offensive lineman “in a mockingly suggestive manner, including on his rear end, while being taunted about his supposed homosexuality.”
- “Pouncey physically restrained [the unnamed offensive lineman], and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to ‘come get some p*ssy.’”
- “Directed racially derogatory words [and remarks] towards” an Asian assistant trainer.
- “On December 7, 2012, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor … donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem (which the assistant trainer had given to them) and jokingly threatened to harm the assistant trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack.”
Wells did not find Pouncey’s denial regarding “making or hearing” remarks about Martin’s family to be credible because witnesses said otherwise. “If someone said that to me, I would punch them in the mouth,” Pouncey said.
Pouncey also flatly denied “hearing vulgar language used toward any individual” and the physical restraint allegation, but he did admit to “repeatedly [using] racial language toward the assistant trainer.”
Furthermore, Wells concluded that “sufficient evidence exists to support a finding that the abusive conduct by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey was at least a contributing factor to Martin’s emotional distress,” which included depression and a contemplation – on two occasions in 2013 – of suicide.
However, he notes that “Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey did not intend to cause Martin to leave the Dolphins or inflict lasting emotional injury. …
“Plainly, Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey intended to get under Martin’s skin, and they certainly appear to have been insensitive to the significant emotional pain they were causing. But we do not believe that they deliberately were trying to goad Martin into taking drastic action, such as leaving the team.”
Wrote Wells: “Martin admitted that he never told anyone in the Dolphins organization that his teammates were harassing him. Martin claimed that there is a general code in football against ‘snitching’ on fellow players and that he did his best to honor that rule.”
Pouncey’s future with the Dolphins is certainly in question, though based on him being a follower and not an instigator, Miami will likely find a way to keep its best offensive lineman in the fold with a combinations of fines, suspensions and sensitivity training rather than outright releasing the player. He is the only one of the three players currently under contract with the team.
The transgressions of Incognito, who was indefinitely suspended from the team immediately and is now a free agent, were exponentially worse and significantly more extensive than those of both Jerry and Pouncey.
As Wells concluded in his report, a football locker room, as a workplace, cannot be held to the same standards as an office. However, Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey’s actions went far beyond the acceptable boundaries of even that extreme environment.
Detailed insults that were not designated to an individual harasser were not included in this post for purposes of brevity, avoiding the attribution of comments directly to Pouncey that he may not have made, and in order to avoid unnecessarily publishing explicit, crude and inappropriate language.