by Mike Dobranski
Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin reportedly left the team, citing “emotional reasons” Oct. 30.
He was absent the next day from the Dolphins Thursday night win over the Cincinnati Bengals, supposedly gathering documents in conjunction with the beginnings of a league investigation into multiple incidents that had occurred during his time with the team.
Over the next two weeks, an unprecedented and sometimes unbelievable scandal began to unfold, highlighting instances of extreme language, insinuated violence and misguided coaching that had apparently taken place within the Miami locker room over the course of the season.
Martin was marked as the victim of these attacks, while the main perpetrator was singled out as fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
At this point, the issue seemed rather cut and dry—one bad apple had spoiled the bunch and brought loads of unwanted attention to the Dolphins organization.
But little by little more reports leaked into the hands of the media. This led to the now- infamous voicemail, full of racial slurs and violent threats, that Incognito left for Martin.
The situation gained more steam as media outlets continued to pump out stories now focused on the supposed perpetrator of the acts, Richie Incognito.
A quick look into Incognito’s history shows a record of angry outbursts and uncooperative behavior in the face of the coaching staff.
He was dismissed from University of Nebraska’s football team for repeatedly breaking team rules. He transferred to University of Oregon, where he was again dismissed after only two short weeks on the team.
His NFL track record doesn’t read much differently. A slew of personal fouls and unnecessary roughness penalties led to the St. Louis Rams cutting Incognito.
He had argued with the coaching staff, ignored their pleas for him to reform his act and eventually wore out his welcome.
With the Dolphins, the talented starting lineman faced accusations of sexual assault after an incident involving an intoxicated Incognito and a charity golf outing volunteer.
The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together; a troubled player with behavioral issues singled out a teammate and crossed the line, driving the teammate to go to the media.
Surely the story would wind down at this point; Martin would seek counseling and Incognito would be cut, simple as that.
That is, until a majority of the Dolphins’ players came out in favor of Richie Incognito, siding with the apparent bully in defense of his accusations.
Incognito, in turn, made some intriguing claims in an interview, stating that he felt betrayed by Martin, and that he considered Martin his best friend.
Another story leaked out that claimed the coaching staff had asked Incognito to toughen up the struggling Martin, to light a fire under him with the hopes of improved performance on the field.
What we were left with was a slew of talking heads and analysts dancing around the issues of race, violence and football culture that were at play here.
Some former players argued that the NFL has its own culture in the locker rooms, and that we cannot and will not be able to understand how the players coexist.
Others responded that regardless of a culture difference, violence and racism should not be deemed acceptable, and that Martin had every right to seek outside help.
The final piece of the puzzle, as of now at least, broke on Sunday, when Martin released a statement absolving his teammates of wrongdoing and blaming the NFL culture for his issues.
In the end, this story had transformed from a personal dispute, to an organizational issue, to a league-wide referendum on locker room culture. My question, then, is where do we go from here?
With regards to Martin, it is clear that he has some issues that he needs to work out if he wishes to continue playing professional football.
He had every right to seek outside counseling because he could not cope with the locker room atmosphere.
What is puzzling is that all initial reports had Martin accusing Incognito of being the ringleader for his harassment.
Given his recent statements of forgiveness and acceptance toward his teammates, why did he feel the need to throw Incognito to the wolves from the outset?
With regards to Incognito, it is evident that he is prone to violent and angry outbursts, given his history. Yet he was accepted and well-liked by all of his teammates despite his actions towards Martin.
Many Dolphins’ players claimed this was just “Richie being Richie.” But is “Richie” a guy that you want in your locker room?
His general acceptance leads to the greater issue of the locker room culture in the NFL.
Yes, it is true that only current and former players can truly relate to the inner workings of an NFL locker room. When they make statements regarding this issue, it is important to heed their words because they are one of the most reliable sources of insight we can have into this debacle.
Can we, as outsiders, deem behavior to be inappropriate in a culture we do not belong to? The team didn’t seem to have a problem with Incognito’s racial slurs. Why do we?
Because we cannot place ourselves into the culture of the locker room, the only thing we can do is ask for that culture to be self- sustaining.
That falls on the coaching staff. The coaching staff should have set a tone from the beginning of training camp regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t in the locker room.
This goes for language, music, games, etc. If these guidelines are broken, it is up to the coaching staff to address this. Secondly, the coaching staff should have been more aware of their players’ issues.
If Jonathan Martin, a member of the team for two years, needed motivation, the coaching staff should have known the proper way to go about doing that. e
It should have been in some way clear, through personal interactions with Martin, that employing the volatile Incognito to complete the job would push him further from the team rather than draw him closer.
Coaches should know their players, and they should know what will and will not work for them individually.
What is clear is that this issue is far from over. The problems Martin raised in his latest statement will lead to a deeper consideration of what NFL culture is, and how it can be changed to prevent this from happening again.
A bullying scandal of this magnitude does an unbelievable amount of damage to the league as it tries to market itself to families and children.
To avoid this in the future, the coaching staffs around the league have to be more in touch with their players, and create an atmosphere acceptable in the locker room where everyone can thrive as teammates.