When Jonathan Martin’s agent complained to Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland about teammate Richie Incognito’s abusive behavior, Ireland said Martin should physically confront Incognito and "punch" him, Pro Football Talk reported Wednesday night.
Dolphins coaches knew Incognito was hazing Martin and other young teammates, and allowed it because they believed it would toughen up the players, FOX Sports NFL Insider Mike Garafolo reported this week.
The league is investigating the relationship Incognito had with Martin, who left the team last week because of emotional issues. Incognito was suspended indefinitely by coach Joe Philbin for his treatment of Martin.
"As the representative organization of all players, the NFLPA will insist on a fair investigation for all involved," the union said in a statement Tuesday that included no condemnation of Incognito’s conduct.
Instead, the union said accountability rested with the Dolphins.
"We expect that the NFL and its clubs create a safe and professional workplace for all players, and that owners, executives, coaches and players should set the best standards and examples," the union said. "It is the duty of this union to hold the clubs … accountable for safety and professionalism in the workplace. … We will continue to remain in contact with the impacted players, their representatives and player leadership."
Philbin said he was unaware of any harassment between the players until after Martin left the team.
"If the (NFL) review shows that this is not a safe atmosphere, I will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that it is," Philbin said.
After practice Wednesday, several Dolphins questioned why Martin left and supported Incognito.
”I don’t know why he’s doing this,” offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said of Martin. ”And the only person who knows why, his name is Jonathan Martin.”
Last week, Martin’s agent said the second-year player from Stanford was harassed almost daily by teammates in his rookie year and the hazing continued into this season. Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed a New York lawyer with experience in sports cases to investigate the case.
The controversy attracted more than 100 reporters and cameramen to the Dolphins’ complex Wednesday, and when the throng entered the locker room after practice, a player pushed the button on a boom box sitting at Incognito’s stall.
Circus music began to play.
Then the Dolphins, clearly weary of the circus atmosphere, opened up. They passionately defended Incognito and insisted they didn’t see the blowup coming. Most said Martin and Incognito were friends.
”The whole thing, it’s kind of mind-blowing to me,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ”It’s kind of mind-blowing to most of the guys on our team.”
The 24-year-old Martin was briefly hospitalized after he left the team and is now with his family in California. It’s unclear whether he’ll rejoin the team this season.
Before Martin left the team saying he was bullied, he told multiple people that he was considering quitting football, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
One of the people said Martin considered giving up the sport because he was mistreated by other offensive linemen. That person said Martin, who sought counseling for emotional issues, now plans to continue playing. Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the organization has said little about Martin’s departure.
Tannehill said he was shocked when Martin departed.
”It’s tough for me, because you can’t help a situation that you didn’t know existed — that no one on this team knew existed,” Tannehill said. ”We have a bunch of good guys in this locker room. To be put in a situation where everyone’s attacking the locker room saying it’s such a bad place, such a bad culture, no leadership to stand up and stop the situation – no one knew there was a situation to be stopped.”
Several players said Martin and Incognito were close.
”If you had 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 Jonathan.”
Guard John Jerry said he never heard Incognito use the racist term included in one voicemail and wouldn’t have objected anyway.
”I would have just laughed it off,” Jerry said. ”I know the type of person he is, and I know he doesn’t mean it that way. Everybody’s got friends that when you’re out, they say those type of things. It’s never made a big deal.”
The 30-year-old Incognito was kicked off his team at Nebraska, and has long had a reputation as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players. But he has been universally praised by his teammates this week.
”Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes,” Tannehill said. ”But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room and he was the best teammate that I could ask for.”
For Martin, the final straw was a lunchroom prank at the team complex, and he then left the squad. Tannehill and Jerry said the same prank has been pulled on many other players.
Hijinks are especially common among the offensive linemen, Clabo said.
”We have a system of basically it’s just a big joke, basically,” he said. It helps camaraderie. It keeps things light in the room. Everyone participates. No one is exempt and so I don’t see how … we would all be guilty of bullying.”
Incognito, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension Sunday, was interviewed briefly this week by a reporter for WSVN-TV.
"I’m just trying to weather the storm right now," Incognito said before getting into his car. "This will pass."
The case leaves the 30-year-old Incognito’s career in doubt, and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Law said he could face criminal charges.
"This can be pursued as an extortion case," Tamara Lave said. "It could also be pursued as making some kind of threat against the other player’s life. … This particular cultural moment is one in which people are very upset about bullying and hazing. … I think that prosecutors may think it’s important for them to do something. And the fact that you have a 300-pound man who feels so threatened and uncomfortable that he leaves, that’s an indication of how serious it was."
No criminal investigation has been disclosed. Meanwhile, the NFL must decide whether the Dolphins failed to enforce the guidelines for workplace conduct included in the league’s player policy manual.
"All NFL players and prospective players have the right to work in a positive environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment, intimidation and discrimination," the manual says. Every player receives a copy during training camp.