The ugliness behind the public relations façade of the NFL has been exposed in an investigation into the locker room hazing by the Miami Dolphins and anonymous homophobic comments about Michael Sam, and the 49ers may ultimately benefit from this mess.
A report by NFL investigator Ted Wells on the Dolphins locker room was a firebomb last week with specific examples of how Richie Incognito and at least two other players and an assistant coach consistently harassed Jonathan Martin and at least two other players. The players not only harassed Martin, but made many lewd remarks about his sister and what they intended to do to her, though they did not follow through on their threats.
Is it any wonder that the Dolphins went nowhere last season with a locker room atmosphere like that?
Martin left the team, but is still under contract to the Dolphins, entering the third year of a four-year contract. It’s very difficult to envision a way he can return to that team, even if the chief offenders are suspended for at least a season, which seems likely.
He still wants to play in the NFL, though, and he has the skills to do it. The 49ers could use an offensive lineman with his versatility and, of course, his college coach at Stanford was Jim Harbaugh, who would never allow the kind of taunting that was going on in Miami. Under Harbaugh, the 49ers have had a cohesive locker room, as is true of all winning teams. Football is the ultimate team game and teams with a locker room like the Dolphins are always going to be losers.
It would not be surprising to see the 49ers trading a late-round draft pick to get the versatile Martin. Harbaugh has always liked linemen who could do a good job at either guard or tackle, when a starter was hurt. Martin would seem to be a good fit for that role.
They do not seem to have the same kind of immediate need for Sam, who would probably be a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker in the NFL. Aldon Smith fits that role perfectly for the Niners now, but Smith’s future is uncertain because of his legal problems.
It might be a good idea to pick up Sam as insurance, in case Smith’s problems short circuit his career.
Sam would probably be a bargain because many NFL clubs still have homophobic front-office people. How do you identify them? When you see an anonymous remark from a team executive about a gay player upsetting the balance of the locker room, you can be certain that comes from a homophobic man. But of course, these guys aren’t actually part of the locker room culture. Harbaugh, who sets the tone for the locker room, is concerned only about a player’s ability.
When Chris Culliver made a homophobic remark during Super Bowl week in 2013, he quickly apologized. It was easy to see Harbaugh’s hand in that.
Both Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have only one goal: to win. So if Martin or Sam, or both, become available, they could be 49ers.