Former Miami Dolphins head trainer Kevin O’Neill was fired by the team after the Ted Wells Report indicated he had knowledge of bullying and harassment that was taking place at team facilities by Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry.
Some of the details in the report claimed that O’Neill would turn a blind eye to the bullying and even participated in some occasions, but now O’Neill is responding.
O’Neill issued a statement through his legal counsel, Jack Scarola of the law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A.
You can read the full and lengthy statement below:
On Wednesday night, February 19th, the distinguished 25-year professional career of Miami Dolphins Head Trainer, Kevin O’Neill was abruptly ended. O’Neill’s firing was accompanied by no explanation, but its timing – only five days after the release of what has come to be publicly referred to as “The Wells Report” – has left an undeniable impression that Kevin O’Neill was being held responsible for the abusive mistreatment of Jonathan Martin at the hands of his Dolphin teammates.
In fact, The Wells Report comes nowhere near supporting the decision of the Dolphins’ management to sack Mr. O’Neill. Instead it demonstrates that Kevin O’Neill was improperly singled out to placate an understandable public outcry for action in response to what was publicly portrayed as intolerable workplace bullying.
The Wells Report invited “anyone with a stake in this matter…to disclose any additional information [they might have].” On behalf of Kevin O’Neill, whose stellar and hard-earned reputation is at stake in this matter, we accept that invitation.
We begin by examining the totality of the “evidence” described in the 148- page report relied upon to justify Mr. O’Neill’s termination. In fact, Kevin O’Neill is referenced with respect to only two incidents:
- · First, there is the uncorroborated assertion by Jonathan Martin that Mr. O’Neill heard unspecified vulgar comments about Martin’s sister “and even laughed at them from time to time;”
- · Second, Mr. O’Neill “allegedly even laughed at some of the racial insults” directed at his assistant trainer, who is of Asian descent.
We do not ignore the fact that vulgar verbal attacks on one’s sister can be “fighting words,” but the fire-able offense with which Kevin O’Neill was charged had nothing to do with his speaking those words. There is no assertion that he ever spoke such words. The crime he is said to have committed was “laughing.” If laughing at vulgar, tasteless humor is to be elevated to cause for terminating without warning an employee with decades of flawless service, then our entire country will face a monumental labor shortage.
As to each of the two circumstances when Mr. O’Neill is alleged to have inappropriately laughed, The Wells Report contains important additional details. The report makes it clear that Kevin O’Neill had no knowledge of the extent to which Martin was harassed when it specifically finds that most of the offensive conduct “occurred away from the workplace” under circumstances where Mr. O’Neill was obviously not present.
Of even greater significance is the fact that, if Kevin O’Neill laughed at the ribald locker room humor at Jonathan Martin’s expense, he was not alone. Martin himself admitted that his own response to the harsh teasing to which he was subjected was “to laugh it off.” Martin never reported or complained about the harassment to anyone, including Kevin O’Neill. In fact, when Martin was not laughing, his response was to ignore the teasing without ever challenging the offending teammates.
If Mr. O’Neill laughed, and if Mr. O’Neill at other times ignored the vulgar “humor” to which Mr. Martin was subjected, then Kevin O’Neill was doing exactly what Jonathan Martin was doing and exactly what, by all appearances, Jonathan Martin wanted done. However, as The Wells Report also confirms, Kevin O’Neill did not simply laugh off or ignore the way Martin was treated.
In fact, the first thing Mr. O’Neill did, according to Martin himself, was to pull Martin aside to counsel him on how to put an end to unwanted verbal abuse. As soon as Kevin O’Neill was informed of the seriousness of Martin’s emotional response to the treatment to which he was being subjected, Mr. O’Neill took immediate and appropriate action by referring Jonathan Martin for professional help.
The Wells Report findings provide even less support for the firing of Mr. O’Neill based on any conduct involving his assistant trainer. Mr. O’Neill is alleged to have “laughed along” with racial insults directed at the trainer, but the report acknowledges that investigators “did not cover this specific topic in [their] interview with O’Neill.” They did, however, cover the topic with the assistant trainer.
And what did he say? “He expressly denied having been the victim of racial harassment…When pressed, the assistant trainer denied that he was bothered by this treatment.”
To the extent that there is any suggestion that Kevin O’Neill was obliged to do more to help “victims” who never complained and never asked for help, the question must be asked as to why Mr. O’Neill had any greater responsibility than every other member of team management who knew as much or more than what Kevin O’Neill knew about what went on in the team locker room.
Mr. O’Neill was selected by team trainers and medical staff members throughout the NFL to be honored as the league’s Trainer of the Year. There is no greater recognition of achievement and respect within Kevin O’Neill’s profession. So why was he targeted for termination when there was no evidence of any significant wrongdoing on his part?
The Wells Report itself clearly suggests an answer to that question. Mr. O’Neill did not give the report investigators the “voluntary” cooperation they and the League wanted. “Voluntary” cooperation that would involve responding to questions regarding the psychological well-being of players under his care was not an option for Mr. O’Neill unless and until proper waivers were obtained from all the individuals whose privacy rights were at stake.
Since the publication of The Wells Report, Mr. O’Neill’s character and integrity have been called into question in a very public way, and he has lost his employment.
The law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. is honored to have been chosen by Mr. O’Neill to represent his interests in these matters. We are prepared to take every appropriate legal measure to restore Kevin O’Neill’s good name.