A Miami Dolphins player who left threatening, racist messages for one of his teammates, may have done so after being asked by coaches to "toughen up" the other player. Offensive lineman Richie Incognito was suspended this week after allegedly tormenting his fellow lineman, Jonathan Martin, to the point that Martin chose to leave the team and seek help. Now more questions are being raised about the team culture that allowed that to happen.
The key piece of evidence against Incognito is a voicemail that he left for Martin last April, in which he called Martin a "half-n---er" and threatened to kill him. (Martin is biracial, Incognito is white.) According to The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, the message was delivered after Martin, who is in his second year in the NFL, missed a series of voluntary workouts during the spring. The message seemed designed to goad Martin into being more of a team player.
The Sun-Sentinel's sources also say that Incognito was asked by Miami's coaching staff to talk to Martin and "bring him to the fold." Those same sources are not alleging that the coaches condoned or ordered the abuse. After all, asking a veteran to try and motivate a younger player is not unusual, but Incognito's approach clearly crossed a line.
Many players have come to defend Incognito and even criticize Martin, for what has happened to the Dolphins. They acknowledge that Incognito is known as a particularly rough and rude player, but chalk it up to the typical hazing and "ball busting" you find in any locker room. Some even blame Martin for the mess, saying he should been able to weather the attacks and violated locker room "codes" by letting the issue go public.
The issue now seems to be whether Incognito was the wrong man to be motivating anyone, and whether the Miami staff should have know that. His reputation has followed him throughout his career and since the Martin story broke, other unflattering incidents from Incognito's past have surfaced, including one dating back to his days as a college freshman at Nebraska. One former NFL opponent says "he's the guy that makes you want to spit in his face," but at least one Miami player put it to The Sun-Sentinel a different, more charitable way.
"Richie is the type of guy where if he's on your team you love him," a teammate said. "If he's not on your team, you hate him. Every team needs a guy like that."