The situation that has engulfed the Miami Dolphins for the better part of the past two weeks has garnered more than its fair share of coverage. Every major media outlet covering the NFL has been glued to the story and there’s been no shortage of opinion from sports journalists, former players, and other professional football personalities.
The situation has ebbed and flowed as information leaks out from tweets, videos, and voice mails connected to the relationship between former teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The head coach has had his say, players are making their points, and the general manager has stayed relatively quiet. It’s the comments and actions of the owner that has me wondering exactly what was going on at 347 Don Shula Drive.
The one thing I’ve learned through 20+ years in and out of the National Football League is that the ONLY individual(s) that isn’t expendable within an organization is its ownership. Ownership sets the tone for the overall operation of the organization, the club is reflective of the culture and leadership willingly or unwillingly set by its owner. Owners sometimes choose to be as hands on as Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, involved not only in the day to day business of the club but in the overall football operations as well. Still others can be more disposed to entrust their billion dollar business to hired hands and place the fortunes of their club with “football people”.
Reports have surfaced that the NFL has expressed concern that Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins has been an absentee owner. Ross has extensive business interests that keep him in New York much of the time, but he and his new CEO Tom Garfinkle contend that Ross is in constant communication with team leadership on a day to day basis. In some ways this isn’t different from any other industry in corporate America. Top executives are often located thousands of miles from actual operations and deal with various aspects (good and bad) through long distance leadership.
But professional football is a consummate example of teamwork to most that follow the NFL. They understand the power of ownership and the influence it can have on the fortunes of their favorite teams. They’re less concerned about who’s at the top of a real estate firm. Fans and the media demand strong guidance from their owners, and club personnel look to ownership to consistently set the mission and tone of their efforts to compete against the other 31 billion dollar rivals.
Many in the media lauded Stephen Ross for his comments prior to the Dolphins Monday Night loss to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two weeks after one of his 53 players left after allegations of workplace harassment and bullying, Ross vowed to “get to the truth”. He also stated that he didn’t want to “rush to judgment” and that he deeply cared for the well being of Martin. He’s allowed the NFL to step in and investigate to ensure no impropriety on the part of the Dolphins and has set up a committee of some all-star names (Don Shula, Tony Dungy, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor, and Curtis Martin) to help build a “code of conduct”. This committee eventually could expand beyond these five.
This is a textbook public relations reaction to a corporate crisis. Multi-billion dollar industries operate in this manner;
- “There’s been a lot of information pushed into the public, and we simply don’t know what did or did not happen yet.”
- “I don’t want to make any excuses.”
- “I have full confidence…”
- “If we have to make changes, we will make changes.”
An NFL club is not a very big outfit. It doesn’t take very long to get through 3 or 4 buses of players and staff heading off to a chartered flight out of Miami International.
Based solely on what I’ve seen come out of this situation from Stephen Ross, this is a “hands off” owner. Would the Rooney’s, or the Mara’s , or Jerry Jones turn the investigation over to the NFL? Would Pat Bowlen, or Mike Brown, or Dan Snyder call for a committee to set a “code of conduct” for their locker room? Would Bob McNair, or Jim Irsay, or Robert Kraft have waited two weeks to speak to the media (and therefore his fans) about allegations regarding racial slurs and harassment to the degree that is being charged?
Perhaps Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, or Venus and Serena spoke with the club directly before Ross had his opportunity to address Dolphin fans. As of this post, Ross has yet to speak with Jonathan Martin.
Bottom line is that Stephen Ross owns 95% of the Miami Dolphins and this is HIS team. HE sets the mission, HE sets the tone, and HE is ultimately responsible for the leadership (coaching and front office) that oversees the cultural environment affecting every aspect of both business and football operations. I’m not saying that ownership knows EVERYTHING that is going on in their team’s training facility. I’m not saying that ownership has to be involved in every aspect of operations, that’s why they pay head coaches and general manager millions to do so.
What I am saying is that Stephen Ross (as the only individual that really matters in the Miami Dolphins) should take control of HIS team; not the NFL, not Tony Dungy, and not by text, email, or a phone call. And if he’s not willing to or uncomfortable in doing so, then he needs to ensure that those he puts in charge fully understand his own vision of who the Miami Dolphins are BEFORE it ever gets to this point.
Leadership is a privilege, not a purchased right. Run with the ball, don’t pass it off.