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What employers can learn from the Miami Dolphins

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This week, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the National Football League. The University of Missouri defensive end was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the final round and, in an obviously emotional moment (televised by ESPN), turned to his boyfriend and gave him a kiss. If you’ve seen the ESPN video, then you know that the kiss was hardly more than a peck and yet it prompted some negative reaction, probably the most notable of which was from Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones who tweeted, “horrible” and “OMG”.

Jones later deleted the tweets but he was fined an undisclosed amount and suspended from the team to attend sensitivity training in respect of his comments. Miami Dolphins Coach, Joe Philbin, said in a statement:

“We were disappointed to read Don’s tweets during the NFL Draft. They were inappropriate and unacceptable, and we regret the negative impact these comments had on such an important weekend for the NFL. We met with Don…about respect, discrimination and judgment. These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program. We will continue to emphasize and educate our players that these statements will not be tolerated.”

Now you may recall that, just two months ago, a report was released following an investigation into allegations of bullying amongst Miami Dolphins players. So, inasmuch as I’m sure the Miami Dolphins organization was not happy with the negative attention surrounding Jones’ comments above, especially following so soon after the bullying scandal, what is important to note here is the organization’s response. Jones was summoned to a meeting almost immediately after management learned of his comments and he has been punished (fined) and also ordered to attend training, presumably designed to ensure that if he is to continue playing for this organization, he understands the expected standards of behaviour.

While some may criticize the Miami Dolphins for the fact that there continue to be problems with their players engaging in inappropriate behaviour, the fact is that employees are who they are. In Canada, employers are not legally obligated to ensure that every individual they employ is not racist, sexist or homophobic. Rather, the obligation is to ensure that employees are able to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.

It would be wonderful if every workplace investigation and its consequent outcome had a transformative impact on a guilty respondent and everyone in the organization. However, the reality is that many of the respondents who we find to be guilty of inappropriate workplace behaviour appear to have had negative experiences in their past which have shaped the people they are in the workplace today. Changes do not happen overnight but people can be made to understand that, unless their behaviour is modified, they will not be allowed to continue to work in an organization. The Miami Dolphins seem to get this since Don Jones is not allowed back on the team until he has attended sensitivity training. Hopefully, that works, or he may find that the next time, he won’t be allowed back on the team at all. We may never change who people are (case in point: Donald Sterling), but employers can continue to educate people on acceptable workplace behaviour and take a stand by parting company with those who just don’t get it.

Christine M. Thomlinson