Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins, and Respect for People

Posted on November 8, 2013 | in Football, Respect For People, Sports | by
Richie Incognito

The Miami Dolphins locker room is a clear demonstration of no “respect for people” but is probably not the only one. (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

The Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito/Miami Dolphins coverage has been going for about a week now and I’m not going to jump into all of the details of what did or did not happen. If you want to catch up, here are a bunch of links that showcase the level of coverage the story is getting and the permutations of incidents that show us this story isn’t going away soon:

Report: Dolphins coaches asked Richie Incognito to toughen up Jonathan Martin ( and Yahoo! Sports)
Encouragement of hazing among Dolphins’ linemen encouraged by coaches (FS1’s Mike Garafalo)
Dolphins’ GM suggests Martin retaliate against Incognito (
Harassment and taunting went beyond the locker room for Martin (
Incognito has a history of violent and harassing behavior (
The twisted, prison-yard world of the Miami locker room (Jason Whitlock of
Incognito was considered an “honorary black guy” which made this behavior tolerable? (Deadspin)
Incognito suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins (
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin unaware of harassment, takes responsibility (The Guardian)
Incognito trying to “weather the storm” through the controversy (
Dolphins controversy lies with team leadership (
The Wrongest Yard (The Daily Show)

See? So much material to wade through. I think a reason for the sheer volume of stories/ideas/suggestions is that it is unfathomable for all of us outside the locker room to truly understand what happens in said locker room, with 70-80 players and coaches beefed up and encouraged to play a physical, dangerous game – it is a far different reality from the one we normally experience.

For example, we have a social uprising against bullying in schools to help protect kids who can’t protect themselves. Yet here we have an example of bullying in the professional ranks of adults…and the players are defending the bully (although there are also reports on the exact opposite).

The Dolphins (and, heck, any sports organization) can use a whole lot of concepts from Lean ideology in order to get past this.

Respect for people: The two main pillars of Lean are 1) process improvement through waste reduction, and 2) respect for people. “Respect for people” as a core principle builds a relationship of trust, partnership, achievement, and accountability up and down the chain of command. It is based on honesty, curiosity, teamwork, fairness, and challenge. A respectful organization gathers insights from employees or process users on how to make the work they do easier or better and genuinely listens to them when they provide feedback.

“That’s how we’ve always done it” is not an acceptable reason: I imagine Richie Incognito thought it was acceptable to treat Jonathan Martin that way because that’s the way he’s always done it. He trusted the suggestions of the coaches to harass Martin because that’s the way they’ve always done it. Football has long had a behind-the-scenes aggressive mentality that would be considered uncivilized to outsiders, and this mentality only gets challenged by outsiders when someone from the inside (like Martin) lets the knowledge escape.

None of this absolves the Dolphins from this behavior tolerance. This most definitely is a failure in leadership. That being said…

Joe Philbin

It is important to have the right people in place in the chain of command: Coach Joe Philbin took responsibility for everything that happens with the team on the field and in the locker room and said this was a failure on his part as he was unaware of these activities.

Yes, he took responsibility for the issues and the shortcomings…but should he? Was he the right guy Martin should approach about these problems?

In my opinion, absolutely not. Philbin (or any head coach) is likely not trained in psychology. He likely does not have any human resources knowledge or understanding how to manage a team beyond firing-teams-up speeches and X’s and O’s of winning football games.

The Dolphins organization has some of those talents in-house. They have an HR department. They probably provide health coverage to players and non-players (or at least someone does) that might offer mental health benefits. That being said, there’s a pretty strong delineation between the front office employees and the on-field “employees”.

So when a scenario like this one happens, should the organization expect players to use the team’s HR department? In addition to the assistant coaches reporting to Joe Philbin, could he also have a non-football wing of other business dealings like operations (requisite equipment is updated and ordered as necessary, for example) and accounting/finance/budgeting, and direct ties to HR?

The delineation between players and front office employees suggests silos, and very few pieces of the silos are talking to one another.

Richie Incognito

A Lean organization would have a vision and mission shared by all representatives in each function. Most NFL teams, unfortunately, don’t operate in this manner. There are major silos with on-field team functions and off-field functions…and as a result the cultures are strikingly, if not violently, different.

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