Football fans love drama. The back and forth of close games, the thrill of a come-from-behind victory, the outsized personalities — all of these make for plenty of excitement in the NFL. However, one team is making headlines for its off-the-field drama far more than for its on-the-field antics these days. The Miami Dolphins have suddenly found themselves embroiled in a controversy involving player hazing, bullying, and harassment, with the added twist of apparent racism.
The soap opera began last week when second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin took a leave of absence from the team, claiming other players bullied him.
Martin left Dolphins headquarters on Monday when finally reaching his limit with the persistent bullying and teasing from some teammates that has plagued him since joining Miami as a 2012 second-round draft choice. As first reported by FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer, the latest taunt – a group of players stood up and left when he tried joining them for lunch – led to Martin getting up himself and walking out the door.
There is no timetable for a return, which could lead Miami to ultimately place him on the reserve/non-football injury list. It also raises questions about his future with the franchise.
This wasn’t an abrupt action by Martin, who is Stanford-educated and the son of two lawyers who attended Harvard University. A source said Martin has tried dealing with a slew of indignities that crossed into personal and family insults, including being bestowed with the nickname of “Big Weirdo.”
Martin’s decision led to further allegations detailing how veteran players treated rookies. The Miami Herald reported that Martin and other unnamed players maintain that older players forced rookies to pay for expensive meals and trips for other team members.
Young Dolphins players are under pressure to dig deep into their pockets to pay for veterans’ social outings, a practice that is straining their finances and locker room chemistry, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
These allegations come on the heels of an ESPN report Sunday morning that [guard Richie] Incognito pressured Martin into paying $15,000 for an unofficial team vacation to Las Vegas — a trip that Martin, an offensive tackle, didn’t even join.
The Dolphins said Sunday night they suspended Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
According to a statement from the team, “We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another, and as a result we believe this is in the best interests of the organization at this time.”
One young defensive player, whose privacy the Miami Herald is protecting, is on his way to going broke because he has been unable to say no to the older players, a source said.
“Everything tastes better when rookies pay for it,” veteran defensive end Jared Odrick wrote on Twitter over the weekend. “Yes, the bill would make you sick.”
Younger players were handed the tab for a $30,000 team dinner, according to a source. The rookie minimum salary this year is about $400,000.
Will Davis, a rookie cornerback, tweeted Sunday: “The bill was definitely split. . . . They would never put that on one man to pay for it all. Haha now that would be crazy . . .”
Martin pointed out troubled teammate Richie Incognito as the ringleader, which led to his suspension. Incognito chose not to live up to his name, vehemently denying his involvement via Twitter. He went after both individual reporters and networks demanding that they clear his name — his tweets also included quotes from Winston Churchill and Buddha. However, ESPN and the Herald learned of harassing voicemails and texts which Incognito left Martin over a period of several months.
Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that the following is a transcript of a voice message Incognito left for Martin in April 2013, a year after Martin was drafted:
“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
Sources tell ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that officials from both the NFL and the Dolphins have heard the tape and have copies of the message.
Sources familiar with the tapes say these are terms Incognito used over time and were not isolated incidents, including the use of the racial epithet multiple times.
Sources also say Martin received a series of texts that included derogatory terms referring to the female anatomy and sexual orientation.
While other Dolphins players had nice things to say about Incognito, rumors persist that Incognito’s indefinite suspension will lead to a dismissal.
[Head Coach Joe] Philbin didn’t need a review to part ways with Incognito, however. The batch of messages provided to the team was enough to make up his mind.
“He’s done,” a ranking club source said Monday. “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.”
Incognito’s troubled history includes dismissals from two different college teams for fighting and partying, verbal altercations with NFL coaches, and winning the title Dirtiest Player in the NFL in a 2009 Sporting News reader survey — which he called a “badge of honor.” (In a laughable irony, he appears in the team’s video urging fans to behave in a civilized manner.) And apparently, Incognito has a reputation with members of the press and other members of the Dolphins organization as being a bully.
Meanwhile, over at CBS, Jason LaCanfora paints an ugly picture of Incognito. He says…Incognito likes to intentionally walk into people, make “others feel uncomfortable and make threatening remarks” to Martin.
Philbin has promised to cooperate with the Dolphins organization as well as with the NFL “[e]ven if it costs him his job, which is a possibility.” Time will tell how this story will play out, but in the meantime, one can’t help but hope that the issues between Martin and Incognito are not merely the tip of an iceberg.