The mess that surrounds the Miami Dolphins and triggered a national conversation about bullying in NFL locker rooms took another turn Tuesday night with a report that Richie Incognito, the suspended lineman who allegedly left verbally abusive and racially insensitive voice mails and text messages for a teammate, had been encouraged by Dolphins coaches to “toughen up” Martin.
Dolphins coaches, the Sun-Sentinel’s Omar Kelly reports, had asked Incognito to step up after Jonathan Martin, a second-year player out of Stanford, missed voluntary workouts last spring and sources told Kelly they believe Incognito took the coaches’ orders too far. Martin left the team last week after a lunch-room incident in which teammates left when he sat down and, early this week, shocking voice mails and texts came to light. Although Incognito has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and a number of reports say that he will not be back with the Dolphins, an investigation by the NFL is ongoing, at the request of owner Steve Ross.
Neither Incognito and Martin has shared his side of the story publicly, although a Florida TV station found Incognito as he left a doctor’s office Tuesday. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now,” he told WSVN-TV. “This will pass.” Martin remains with his family, away from the team. Zach Ertz, a former teammate at Stanford, told ESPN that Martin wants to continue playing football and he remains on the Dolphins’ 53-man roster.
The two were in their second season of playing on the line together, with Incognito at guard and Martin at tackle. Offensive linemen, because of the carefully coordinated work they must do, are a close group, “the most close-knit group of any of the positions,” according to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Organized team activities are considered voluntary, but no NFL team treats them that way and, when Martin was absent, it fell to Incognito to “get him into the fold,” a source told Kelly.
Martin, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, did not try to speak with Coach Joe Philbin about the alleged behavior and players said they were unaware of it. “I never heard anything about it until now,” Danell Ellerbee, a linebacker who’s a member of the team’s six-player leadership council, said (via ESPN). “We don’t have no problem with [a teammate coming forward]. We would try to handle it the best way possible. We would rather [deal with] that than this.”
Philbin, who is in his second season as coach, comes from a different environment in Green Bay, where he was a Packers assistant. He told Dolphins players, according to the Sun-Sentinel, to “cut out” rookie hazing, which with most team typically encompasses things like silly outfits on team flights and being made to carry veterans’ shoulder pads at training camp.
Meanwhile, the debate about the culture of NFL locker room goes on, with players everywhere weighing in on their Tuesday off-day. “Was Richie Incognito wrong? Absolutely,” the New York Giants’ Antrel Rolle said in a WFAN interview. “But I think the other guy is just as much to blame as Richie because he allowed it to happen. At this level, you’re a man. You’re not a little boy. You’re not a freshman in college. You’re a man.”
London Fletcher, the Washington Redskins’ veteran linebacker, thinks there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“I was very disappointed in that locker room down in Miami because when you hear the reports that are coming out, when you look at it, here you have a young guy, second year in the league, and I’m sure what’s happening to him was happening as a rookie as well,” he said (via the Post’s Mark Maske). “It’s for somebody, some veterans in that group in that locker room, to come up and step up and put a stop to that.
“Here you had a guy, I know Incognito is the one who is, I guess, the main culprit. But I think probably he’s not the only guy that will end up coming out as being a guy who was giving Jonathan Martin a hard time, going beyond what the norm is of what you see as far as maybe making a rookie carry your shoulder pads, bring in breakfast sandwiches, things like that. But what seemed like was going on there was beyond hazing, beyond your normal rookie-type deals. So I’m real disappointed in the leadership in the locker room down there in Miami.”
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