MIAMI (AP) — An attorney for the trainer fired last month by the Miami Dolphins says his client was improperly singled out to appease a “public outcry for action” in the wake of the team’s bullying scandal.
Kevin O’Neill was fired Feb. 19, five days after the release of an NFL report on the scandal following a three-month investigation.
Attorney Jack Scarola issued a statement Thursday saying his firm is prepared to “take every appropriate legal measure to restore Kevin O’Neill’s good name.” A partner in Scarola’s law firm, Chris Speed, said no lawsuit is being immediately contemplated.
“We’re trying to help a guy who has been portrayed in a bad light, and let folks know he’s not a bad guy in this circumstance,” Speed said in a telephone interview. “Mr. O’Neill was a victim in his own right in this thing.”
NFL investigators found that Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and two teammates engaged in persistent harassment directed at tackle Jonathan Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. Martin left the team at midseason, and Incognito was suspended for the final eight games.
O’Neill, the Dolphins’ trainer for 18 years, expressed hostility toward the investigation and cut short an interview with those conducting it, according to the report by investigating attorney Ted Wells.
Martin told investigators O’Neill and other team employees saw an assistant trainer being humiliated and didn’t intervene. O’Neill allegedly laughed at racial insults directed toward the assistant trainer.
O’Neill was fired without explanation, Scarola said, but the timing left the impression he was held responsible for abusive treatment of Martin.
“The Wells report comes nowhere near supporting the decision of the Dolphins’ management to sack Mr. O’Neill,” Scarola said. “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. …
“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.”
The report shows O’Neill had no knowledge of the extent to which Martin was harassed, Scarola said.
“If Kevin O’Neill laughed at the ribald locker room humor at Jonathan Martin’s expense, he was not alone,” Scarola said. “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.”
O’Neill did not simply laugh off the way Martin was treated, Scarola said.
“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,” Scarola said.
The Dolphins had no immediate response to Scarola’s comments. His partner, Speed, said Scarola wanted to restore O’Neill’s reputation with other NFL teams.
“Potential employers need to know his side of this is different from how it may be portrayed in the Wells report,” Speed said.
The Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner the same day they fired O’Neill. Turner didn’t attempt to stop the harassment and even took part in some of the taunting of offensive lineman Andrew McDonald, the Wells report said.
O’Neill had worked in the NFL for 25 years. He and his Miami staff won national awards, including one last year from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
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