The public relations staff of the Miami Dolphins have their work cut out for them, after the recent allegations of locker room bullying of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito. The team is in the midst of a media firestorm, after Martin excused himself from the team and filed a formal complaint with the NFL. It was supposed to be a quiet week for the Dolphins, who were on a bye, but instead are now forced to answer a barrage of questions from the media. Something like this should have (and usually is) handled internally 99% of the time by players and coaches, which is why this particular situation is all the more concerning. Let’s take a look at how the Dolphins’ PR staff has handled the situation thus far.
Monday, November 3rd
News breaks that second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin has left the team due to unspecified personal reasons. Speculation starts to fly that the reason for his absence has to deal with a practical joke that was played at his expense in the Dolphins cafeteria, and that was essentially the last straw for Martin. As various media outlets start to run with the story, the Dolphins issue a formal press release stating that Martin indeed has left the team, but that the reasoning behind his departure has nothing to do with bullying. They also deny that the NFLPA is investigating the incident.
A few hours later, the Dolphins issue another press release stating the following:
“We received notification today from Jonathan’s representation about allegations of player misconduct. We are taking these allegations very seriously and plan to review the matter further. We have also reached out to the NFL and asked them to conduct an objective and thorough review. As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.”
Shortly after this release, comes another one, this time naming Incognito as the main culprit and announcing his indefinite suspension from the team:
“The Miami Dolphins have suspended Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time.”
Although the Dolphins did an adequate job addressing the situation through the issued press releases, the fact that they had to change their tone multiple times is concerning. Before officially making the claim that bullying was not the issue, there should have been additional communication between all parties involved to ensure that all of the information was correct. Instead, they were forced to react to media reports that had proof that it was in fact a player misconduct issue. Head coach Joe Philbin also should have come forward to address the reports a little sooner, as it would have been appropriate to hear the information coming from the face of the team, instead of an organizational release. Suspending Incognito, was completely necessary from a PR perspective and from an organizational standpoint as well.
Tuesday, November 4th
Coach Philbin addresses the media via a press conference and clears the air, stating that the situation is being taken extremely seriously and that he is responsible for the workplace environment and player safety. Overall, the conference was effective, but one must wonder why the PR team has not instructed the Dolphin players from commenting on the situation.
As more information gets uncovered, as it already has, the Dolphins will have their hands full trying to weather the media storm and it remains to be seen if they will come out unscathed.