It was business as usual for the Miami Dolphins and the accused woman-beater.
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No matter that Phillip Merling was in jail on the eve of minicamp after being charged with aggravated battery against a girlfriend who is two months pregnant with their second child. The defensive end still worked with the starting unit during last weekend’s practices as if nothing had happened.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano took no disciplinary action against Merling even after a chilling 911 call was released by police. A petrified 21-year-old woman had barricaded herself inside their bathroom as the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Merling allegedly attempted to barge inside. The couple’s four-month-old son was in another room.
“Please come help me,” screamed the woman, who claimed this wasn’t the first time Merling had struck her. “He hit me about five times in my face. Please help. He’s way bigger than me.”
As horrifying as the situation sounds, the franchise’s callousness toward the matter is almost as scary. Sparano proclaimed he wasn’t a “judge” after speaking with Merling. Sparano also said the Dolphins were “trying to gather facts, but it really is a league situation right now. The league is handling this.”
This pass-the-buck mentality helps explain why the Dolphins have supplanted Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as the NFL’s new bad boys.
A league-high four Dolphins players have gotten arrested this offseason, yet there is no indication that any have missed a second of practice time for their actions. Two players — running back Ronnie Brown and cornerback Will Allen — were popped for DUIs. A third (defensive tackle Tony McDaniel) also was charged with domestic violence.
The claim that Merling’s case “really is a league situation right now” doesn’t pass muster. Sparano — who has a daughter — should have sent Merling home just like Seattle is doing with exiled starting linebacker Leroy Hill following his arrest on domestic violence charges. Team owner Stephen Ross should have demanded it. The same goes for the two female entertainment icons that hold minority ownership stakes — Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan.
Then again, this approach is par for the course in the Bill Parcells regime.
During his 2007 introductory news conference, Parcells proclaimed he didn’t want “thugs and hoodlums” on his team. So what did the Dolphins do this offseason? Sign an on-field thug (guard Richie Incognito) and add a wide receiver with a history of hoodlum-like behavior (Brandon Marshall).
The fun doesn’t end there. Besides the four arrests, general manager Jeff Ireland came under fire for allegedly asking wide receiver Dez Bryant whether his mother was a prostitute during a pre-draft interview. The Dolphins also re-signed Jason Ferguson even though he’s facing an eight-game suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s steroid policy.
This team is oilier than the Gulf of Mexico.
The Dolphins’ image hasn’t gotten this tarnished since the Jimmy Johnson era in the late 1990s. Johnson was so desperate to win that he signed criminals like Lawrence Phillips and Cecil Collins during his four-year Miami coaching tenure. After his retirement, Dolphins ownership asked replacement Dave Wannstedt to make off-field character a much higher priority than Johnson did.
Parcells has no such checks and balances. Former team owner H. Wayne Huizenga was so desperate to rebuild his moribund squad that he gave Parcells total control over football operations. Parcells can walk away at any time, which has kept Huizenga and now Ross from meddling.
Parcells deserves credit for helping Miami regain respectability. The 2008 Dolphins completed the most remarkable turnaround in league history by improving from 1-15 to an 11-5 division winner. Miami slipped to 7-9 in an injury-plagued 2009 campaign but is expected to vie for the playoffs once again in the rough-and-tumble AFC East.
Parcells, though, has failed to grasp that the win-at-all-costs mentality must be tempered in today’s NFL. Parcells didn’t have a commissioner like Roger Goodell in charge during his head coaching heyday of the 1980s and 1990s. Integrity and off-field conduct now matters.
Although the team does have some strong civic-minded players, the way Miami’s management has handled this offseason spits in the face of what Goodell is trying to accomplish. Parcells also doesn’t have to publicly answer for his actions since he isn’t required to speak with the media.
Back to Merling. The case took an interesting twist when the Broward New Times reported that a local sheriff’s office commander is under investigation for breaking protocol. Alvin Pollack, who also works game-day security for the Dolphins, may have allowed Merling to leave through a side exit to avoid awaiting media and then authorized giving him a ride home.
“We’re not in the business of giving people we arrest for felonies a ride home,” Broward sheriff Al Lamberti said during a news conference.
Lamberti is right. Besides, Merling already had enough special treatment awaiting at Dolphins headquarters.