In the NFL you are supposed to channel all your aggression and violence toward your opponent — not your teammate. That is a pretty simple idea in football. Bully the guys with the different colored jerseys, not the ones that carry around the same helmet as you.
Somewhere in between, Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins forgot all about that and it has potentially cost not only his career, but it has jeopardized the career of one of his teammates, his coaching staff and discredited one of the proudest franchises in the NFL.
If you haven’t heard, Incognito has been suspended indefinitely by the Miami Dolphins for unspecified misconduct against a teammate. That teammate is Jonathan Martin, a second-year player out of Stanford who is biracial, and that unspecified misconduct is leaving threatening voicemails and texts messages for Martin that includes the use of racial slurs and attacks on Martin’s family.
Incognito’s misconduct Martin forced to leave the team, after no longer being able to deal with the constant racial slurs and threats against his life and family. Martin hired a lawyer who released Incognito’s messages to Martin, a move that has stirred up controversy in a league that prides itself in keeping player issues behind closed doors.
Say what you will about football being a “man’s sport” or the fact that Martin should have handled this situation inside of the locker room. When someone work in an environment where racial slurs and threats are part of the norm, something needs to be addressed.
What is even more shocking is that teammates have come in support of Incognito, dismissing his threats and racial epithets.
Meanwhile, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has come to the defense of Martin and rightly so, because whatever locker room culture the Dolphins have created over the past years leading up to this situation is not normal — far from it.
If the players of the Dolphins actually support Incognito and his use of racial slurs, then that says something about the nature of the Dolphins locker room and what exactly is allowed to go on in there. Not only that, it shows the lack of leadership on the team. If football really is a man’s game, it’s time for the Dolphins players to start acting like men.
Ross has formed his own task force of former Miami Dolphin greats such as Don Shula, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor and highly respected NFL figures, such as former head coach Tony Dungy. Their job will be to analyze exactly what was going on in the Miami locker room and most importantly, establish a code of conduct for the team, because clearly the team is in need.
For Ross, this is a step in the right direction not just for his franchise, but for all of the NFL, because if this is happening in one locker room it is more than likely happening to more teams.
Expect NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to come down hard on the Miami Dolphins and that includes excessive fines and suspensions. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin will likely be out of a job for being oblivious to what was going on in his own locker room and General Manager Jeff Ireland in all likelihood will also be out of a job.
In his first sit-down interview, Incognito insisted he is not racist and did not apologize for his actions. Incognito has also said that Martin sent him messages with the same type of language. This is a poor defense to hide behind extreme behavior encouraged by teammates and does not justify his actions.
The big picture is this — any type of bullying inside the locker room has no place in the NFL or any other sport for that matter. It is up to the Miami Dolphins organization and the NFL to correct this situation and prevent it from happening in the future.
Martin is now currently in Los Angeles receiving counseling and a report came out yesterday that Martin wants to play professional football again, just not this year and of course not with the Dolphins. Though Martin is just 24 and a former second-round draft pick, the question to ask is which team will bring him in considering the potential risk he can bring to a team after seeing what the Miami Dolphins are now under.
Some players will definitely be against the idea and many general managers would not like the distraction from the media Martin would bring. Until then, you can only hope that the league will be there for Martin because that was clearly missing in Miami.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of November 14, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Art by Vicky Kohatsu of The Daily Nexus.