The Miami Dolphins are currently one of the least respected organizations in the entire NFL. The team has become the media’s punching bag in light of a bullying controversy that has made a once-proud franchise relevant again for all of the wrong reasons.
I’m not here to say whether the media’s obsession with the “scandal” and its tendency to exacerbate and exaggerate the issue is right or wrong. I’m only going to speak on how the Dolphins can curtail the shots they’ve been taking in order to restore respect and perceived competency to their organization.
The fact of the matter is, Miami is an easy target because it has been a losing team. One playoff berth in 12 seasons tends to diminish a team’s brand, so much so that it becomes susceptible to inflated scrutiny in dark times.
Even if the attention they are getting is unwarranted to a degree, making national headlines on non-sports specific television segments and front-page tabloids for a controversial issue is a black eye for the Dolphins from top to bottom. It’s an embarrassment. And since it’s the Dolphins and because they have been losers, it’s worse.
Take, for example, how easily winning franchises have been forgiven in the past. The New Orleans Saints saw suspensions handed to their head coach, general manager, defensive coordinator, an assistant coach and four defensive starters in 2012 after it was proven that players were monetarily compensated for injuring opponents.
The Saints suffered a disappointing 7-9 season in 2012, but so far in 2013 with head coach Sean Payton back in the fold, the Saints are 7-2 and have seemingly resurfaced as one of the NFL’s elite teams like nothing ever happened.
A coach and a GM who were deemed at fault in an arguably barbaric bounty system enough to be suspended for a full season and a half season respectively survived the controversy to return to their winning ways a year later. In Miami, however, the latest report from NFL.com’s Mike Silver suggests that head coach Joe Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland are not expected to withstand this bullying fiasco.
What is the difference between what happened in New Orleans and what is happening in South Florida? Both Payton and Mickey Loomis were proven winners and had just delivered the city of New Orleans its first Super Bowl title three years prior. Philbin and Ireland, on the other hand, were being scrutinized for poor coaching and roster molding respectively long before Jonathan Martin left the team and set the wheels of Miami’s locker-room controversy in motion.
In 2007, the New England Patriots were docked a first-round draft pick and collectively (team and head coach) fined $750,000 for videotaping opposing teams’ defensive signals. Some suggested an asterisk should be placed next to the three Super Bowl titles New England won under Bill Belichick, but most pundits never questioned Belichick or the Patriots organization.
They were still lauded as the class of the NFL, and the perfect regular season that ensued assured that no one was going to lose admiration for the coach or the team. Contrarily, the Dolphins are being characterized as a joke, and one player’s claims that he was bullied didn’t deem them that alone. It began with losing, and the disdain that followed is being amplified by an unprecedented saga that the media is seemingly infatuated with.
The damage has already been done in Miami. The Dolphins have a ruinous PR issue on their hands even if the head figures of the franchise emerge from the situation unscathed. If the Dolphins can win, however, everything will be perceived differently.
The quickest and easiest way for a football team to be thought of in a positive light is to win football games. The Dolphins are 4-4 and sit in an opportunistic position to make a run at the AFC’s sixth seed and the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008. Make the playoffs, and their sins will be forgiven, the embarrassment replaced with pride. Maybe some chastised team leaders will even hang on to their jobs.
The Dolphins hope the soap opera ends and winning resumes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 10. And for this team, there is likely no former without the latter.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins writer at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.