Canevari's Corner: Incognito v.s. Martin

It's been a couple weeks now since the firestorm of controversy that now swirls around the NFL's Miami Dolphins first broke and so far each day another chapter in the sorted affair is chronicled into the history of the NFL.

The controversy first arose after a report by Fox Sports revealed that offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and other rookies had been forced to pay thousands of dollars for dinner tabs and vacations for the more veteran members of the team. That was probably the least disturbing thing to come out of the situation so far as further reports put another member of the Dolphins offensive line, guard Richie Incognito, at the center of the controversy - all of this coming while the Dolphins are fighting for position in the AFC East and a possible playoff spot.

Martin left the team on Oct. 28 following a lunch room incident and last week checked himself into a hospital in California to receive treatment for emotional distress. The reports that have come out over the past couple of weeks have shown that Incognito left voicemails and sent Martin texts using racial slurs and that also contained "threats." Martin's lawyer has also indicated that Martin endured a "malicious physical attack" that went beyond locker room hazing.

Over the past two weeks not only has Martin left the team, but Incognito has been indefinitely suspended. Reports have also indicated that Martin no longer has any interest in playing for the Dolphins.

On Monday night, the Dolphins lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had not won a game all season, dropping their record to 4-5. Near the end of the game, Miami had the ball for what turned out to be their final series. During that series their were two plays in which the offensive line collapsed and quarterback Ryan Tannenhill was sacked twice before throwing a desperation pass on fourth down that was intercepted, effectively ending the game. Would that have happened if Martin and Incognito were there? Maybe, but their absence seems to be hurting the team in more than one way at the moment.

Was Incognito wrong to use racial slurs against his teammate? Absolutely. As for the rest of the language used by Incognito in his message to Martin - which in part said "You're still a rookie. I'll kill you." - it's important to keep in mind that the NFL locker room is a far different "work" environment than almost anything that anyone goes through in their workplace and it's still a murky situation because not all of the facts have been made public.

Incognito talked to the press not long ago about the situation. He acknowledged that he shouldn't have used the language he did, but also put out there that Martin used the same word as well as equally crass language in the locker room and gave the indication that it was simply part of the culture. During the interview he also said that he was tough on Martin, but that he was also one of his biggest supporters on the team. In an interview with Fox's Jay Glazer, Incognito turned over his phone showing that he and Martin had been in contact since Martin left the team and that Martin had told him he was fine and that he didn't blame the guys on the team at all, but rather it was the culture around football and the locker room that got to him a little. Tannenhill even said if someone had asked Martin who his best friend on the team was he probably would have said it was Incognito. Incognito also said that he was upset because Martin did not give any indication that he was having trouble with what occurred in the locker room.

How much of that is true is subject to debate. There may be parts of it that are true. What Martin thinks is anyone's guess. Since leaving the team he has not spoken out at all to the media. His lawyer has issued a couple of statements, but nothing that really gives any true insight into what he went through or why he eventually left the team and also checked himself into the hospital.

The other piece of this whole thing that is fishy - no pun intended - is that there are several reports that coaches didn't know anything about the hazing or the abuse. At the time there are other reports that have indicated that coaches told Incognito to treat Martin somewhat in the way he did to "toughen him up." According to many now analysts who were former football players the reports that the coaches did not know what was going on is highly unlikely. Many have said that football is a subdivided game and that the offensive linemen in particular are "joined at the hip." If that's the case the coaches are just as responsible, if not more so, than the other players for trying to put a stop to the whole situation before it got out of control.

Again, without hearing Martin's side of the story it's hard to determine certain things, but given all the reports that have come out there are some questions that have surfaced. One is when Martin was being bullied or hazed by the other members of the team, why didn't he fight back? The reports indicate that Martin seemed okay with the locker room situation and that there was no warning that there was an issue before it became the center of a national media frenzy. There have not been any reports that have come out over the past two weeks indicating that there was physical or verbal confrontation between Martin and Incognito or Martin and other members of the team. So the question is why didn't Martin try handling it that way first.

The other question is did he speak up? Did he let his teammates know that their behavior was not appreciated? If so and it did not stop did he then go to his coaches and was he ignored there as well? Is that why he eventually left the team?

Another question now is given everything that's unfolded so far will he get a shot with another team. A recent poll of 72 players spread out over all 32 NFL teams showed that about a third would not want Martin as their teammate. It's a small sampling to be sure, but given the information out there at the moment that could make it very hard for Martin to continue his NFL career. If he is picked up by another team one has to wonder how he'll be treated. One might think he'll be ignored by the majority of teammates, at least for a while, or he might be the target of similar behavior.

Unquestionably the things Incognito has done are inexcusable and if he's guilty of being involved in some of the things he's been accused of that's even worse. At the same time though, if Martin did not give any indication to his teammates to stop their behavior then he's at fault to some degree as well. Incognito should have known better than to use racial slurs and some of the other offensive things he said; that line shouldn't have been crossed, but if Martin didn't try to put a stop to the hazing and bullying in house that's a problem as well.

In the coming days and weeks more information will undoubtedly come out and when it does it will likely reshape the way not just the Miami Dolphins locker room conducts itself, but the conduct in locker rooms throughout the rest of the league.


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