DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins began the week advised to watch their words in light of Jonathan Martin’s player misconduct allegations against Richie Incognito.
That changed on Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to help clear Richie’s name,” defensive tackle Randy Starks said following the team’s afternoon practice.
“Whatever was said, I’m sure wasn’t meant that way. They’re good friends. Richie’s a good teammate. Jon Martin was a good teammate. I just think everything’s gotten blown out of proportion.”
The Dolphins spoke following an afternoon practice in preparation for their game Monday night at Tampa Bay. While players said they were focused on the Buccaneers, several also were eager to offer opinions on a controversy that has been fueling the national media.
“What’s perceived is Richie is this psychopath, racist, maniac — right?” tackle Tyson Clabo said. “And the reality is that Richie was a pretty good teammate, and that Richie and Jonathan Martin are friends, or appeared to be friends.
“I think if you have a problem with somebody, a legitimate problem with somebody, you should say, ‘Hey, I have a problem with this,’ and stand up and be a man.”
Although Incognito was a member of the team’s six-player leadership council, the guard’s reputation around the league has been one of being a dirty player with past issues.
“It’s unfortunate to see a guy go through different NFL programs, go to business school, do different things to change the way he’s been,” receiver Brian Hartline said, “to where, like they always say, the people who can hurt you the most are the ones closest to you. That’s exactly what happened.”
Said defensive tackle Paul Soliai: “He was a hard-working guy, come out ready to work. Funny guy. He was always a guy that put a smile on your face every morning. If the day’s going slow, you’d know he’d pick everything up. He was a leader.”
A leader who allegedly left racist voice mails and texts for Martin.
“I had no clue about the voice mail,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I’ve never seen that, never heard about that. All I know about Richie is he was a great teammate to me. I saw him being a great teammate all the time.
“Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes. But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of looseness to this locker room. He was the best teammate I could ask for.”
In Tannehill’s opinion, Martin would have echoed those sentiments.
“I think if you would have asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was he would have said Richie Incognito,” Tannehill said. “The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jon.”
Wednesday was the third straight day of practice for the Dolphins, who are coming off a Thursday night win against Cincinnati. Players were relatively tight-lipped Monday and not made available to the media on Tuesday.
During that time, the team received a ton of negative public scrutiny.
“Now we’re able to say our opinion and really protect ourselves from being bullied from (the media),” Hartline said. “We had to sit back and listen to it for a few days. We’re kind of tired it. We’re just going to give our point, and then you can judge. Honestly, it caught us all off guard. It’s a shame it happened.”
Told players seemed to be supporting Incognito and not Martin, Hartline said: “We’re not picking sides. It’s not about picking sides. It’s about telling our opinion, telling what we thought about the situation.”
Tannehill, another leadership council member, said the events of the past 10 days were “kind of mind-blowing.”
“Our phones are blowing up from anyone we’ve ever come in contact with about the situation,” said Tannehill, who was asked if he would accept either Martin or Incognito back with Miami.
“It’s tough. Both guys at this point have their rights and wrongs. If they were allowed to come back, if they chose to come back — I’m big on forgiving people.”
Reports Tuesday said members of the Miami coaching staff had encouraged Incognito to toughen up Martin, a second-year player form Stanford.
“I never heard that,” Tannehill said.
“Nah, he don’t need to be toughened up,” guard John Jerry said. “I mean, you play high school football, you play college football — you’re tough enough. This is the league, you don’t have to be toughened up anymore.”
Martin bolted the team on Oct. 28 after a prank in the team’s cafeteria, where players reportedly got up and left a table upon Martin’s arrival.
Both Tannehill and Jerry said the stunt had been pulled on many players, many times.
“Everybody gets their share. That’s one thing about the league,” Jerry said. “When it happened to me, I laughed it off. I’d just get up, and then they come sit back down and everybody have a good time laughing about it.”
Nobody’s laughing now in light of a situation players said they knew nothing about and are struggling to understand.
“I don’t think what happened was necessary,” Clabo said. “You guys are trying to make it about locker room, and this secret code that you guys want to make up or whatever. But it’s just decent. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”