The Miami Dolphins have fined and suspended safety Don Jones for tweeting “Omg” and “horrible” after ESPN cut to a live feed of Michael Sam learning that he had just become the first openly gay male athlete drafted to any of the major American sports. In the live feed, Sam kissed his boyfriend in celebration, something with which Jones apparently took issue.
The Dolphins fined Jones an undisclosed amount and are suspending him until he completes an educational training.
Jones deleted the tweets and apologized for his comments on Sunday. “I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media,” Jones said in a statement. “I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment. I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team and I wish him all the best in his NFL career.”
The Dolphins’ player’s comments were damning for a team already struggling with a public image of bigotry. In the fall, Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito drew media scrutiny and was ultimately suspended for homophobic conduct and bullying his teammate with racial slurs.
A report on the incident found that Incognito, along with two others on the offensive line, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, were behind the harassment, and “that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that [another player, Jonathan Martin] was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”
After that incident, the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and head trainer Kevin O’Neill for their involvement in the bullying. The team’s head coach, Joe Philbin, also signaled that he would institute harsh punishments for any similar behavior — including, as we now know, Jones’s.
“I will be accountable moving forward for making sure that we emphasize a team-first culture of respect towards one another,” Philbin said at the time.
While there are questions about whether Philbin actually didn’t know about Incognito’s behavior as it was happening — and reasons to doubt he has fostered a team culture that really disavows bullying — Philbin voiced similar concerns when he heard about Jones’s comments.
“We were disappointed to read Don’s tweets,” he said. “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 today about respect, discrimination and judgment. These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program.”