The Miami Dolphins (and by extension all of the NFL) have a problem on their hands after a rift between two teammates exploded in accusations of racially-loaded harassment and abuse that led one player to leave the team the other to be suspended.
(Update, 3:41 p.m.: The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero reports Incognito will be cut from the Dolphins after the NFL completes its full review of the situation, per a Dolphins team source. "There are procedures in place and everyone wants to be fair. The NFL is involved. But from a club perspective he'll never play another game here," the source said.)
Last week, Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin (right) abruptly left the team after an "incident" with his fellow player in the team's lunchroom, that reportedly sparked some "emotional issues" for Martin. Fellow lineman Richie Incognito (above) was later identified as the source of Martin's torment, but it wasn't just some simple "ribbing" that caused Martin to snap. Incognito has apparently routinely bullied the second-year player until he had finally had enough. Days after Martin's absence, Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins, while Martin reportedly remains in therapy in California. The team and the NFL are now separately investigating the damaging, disturbing relationship between the two lineman.
Details of Incognito's harassment against Martin have slowly started to leak out, and the more we learn the more disturbing it gets. On Monday, CBS Sport's Jason La Canfora reported Martin has received text messages and voice mails from Incognito that show the veteran lineman referring to the biracial Martin as a 'half-n*****,'" and threatening his family's well being. "There are several instances of threats as well ... including one in which Incognito refers to defecating in Martin's mouth," La Canfora reports. These messages were eventually given over to the Dolphins and the NFL. Shortly after this report was released, ESPN's Adam Schefter detailed even more of Incognito's threats:
1: Richie Incognito left this VM for Jonathan Martin in April 2013: "Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of (expletive)...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 4, 2013
2. More Incognito to Martin: "I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. (I want to) (expletive) in your (expl) mouth....— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 4, 2013
3. Incognito VM to Martin: "(I'm going to) slap your (expletive) mouth. (I'm going to) slap your real mother across the face (laughter).— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 4, 2013
4. Incognito to Martin, all on same VM in April 2013: "(Expletive) you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 4, 2013
NFL has heard Richie Incognito's VM to Jonathan Martin. Dolphins have heard the voice mail.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 4, 2013
The latest revelations were a bit of vindication for Schefter after Incognito accused him of slander over his earlier reporting on the story. Over the weekend, Schefter and ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported among other items that Martin was forced by Incognito to pay $15,000 for a veteran's trip to Las Vegas; a trip Martin was not part of. This accusation didn't sit well with Incognito, who then proceeded to quote Winston Churchill, question Schefter's reporting, and maybe challenge Schefter to a fight:
@AdamSchefter A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. Winston Churchill— Richie incognito (@68INCOGNITO) November 3, 2013
@AdamSchefter Stop slandering my name. You hide behind "sources" who are not man enough to put their name behind the BS you report— Richie incognito (@68INCOGNITO) November 3, 2013
@AdamSchefter This is the second time you have tried to drag my name through the mud with with lies— Richie incognito (@68INCOGNITO) November 3, 2013
@espn shame on you for attaching my name to false speculation. I won't be holding my breathe for an apology— Richie incognito (@68INCOGNITO) November 3, 2013
Nary a punch thrown, and Schefter has already been declared the winner by knockout.
The Martin-Incognito case has gone beyond a simple dispute between two players, and is calling the NFL's culture of rookie hazing and "friendly" teammate harassment into question. Assembling a football team is like performing a chemistry experiment blind; you never know with element could produce a dangerous reaction. As many have noted (like Deadspin's Drew Magary) football players are routinely awful to each other in the locker room, with most of the behavior being excused as male bonding. But while many agree that hazing traditions like rookies paying for extravagant dinners is common — not only in the NFL, but across other sports leagues — others have said that the Dolphins case was out of hand. The racial element of Incognito's abuse make this case especially troubling.
Unfortunately, there are some in the NFL who are more interested in protecting their own culture, than they are the victims of abuse.
Said one personnel man (who's not alone): "Instead of being a man and confronting him, (Martin) acted like a coward and told like a kid."— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) November 4, 2013
Another: "Incognito is an A-Hole, however I'm pretty sure you would want him beside you if you are in a bar fight. Tough as nails."— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) November 4, 2013
Also: "You handle it in house (fight, handle it on the field, joke about it, etc.) and keep it moving."— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) November 4, 2013
The NFL and the Miami Dolphins are investigating the Dolphins' apparently out-of-hand bullying problem. Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo reports Martin started therapy on Monday. The team released this latest statement on Sunday:
We received notification today from Jonathan's representation about allegations of player misconduct. We are taking these allegations very seriously and plan to review the matter further. We have also reached out to the NFL and asked them to conduct an objective and thorough review. As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.