Incognito and Martin: An Insider’s Story
By Lydon Murtha
I don’t have a dog in this fight.
I want that to be very clear. I played offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins from 2009 until the 2012 preseason, when I was released after tearing ligaments in my foot and injuring my back, both requiring surgery. I have since retired, and I'm happily working in the auto industry and living outside of Miami. I went to college at Nebraska with Richie Incognito, and I consider myself friends with him and Jonathan Martin, but I don’t speak with them regularly and I’m not taking sides. I’m only interested in the truth, which is what I’m going to share, from my own experiences and from conversations with friends still on the team.
Before I correct some of the misconceptions and outright lies being reported in the course of this story, let’s first establish who Martin and Incognito are as human beings and their relationship with one another.
From the beginning, when he was drafted in April 2012, Martin did not seem to want to be one of the group. He came off as standoffish and shy to the rest of the offensive linemen. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye, which was puzzling for a football player at this level on a team full of grown-ass men. We all asked the same question: Why won’t he be open with us? What’s with the wall being put up? I never really figured it out. He did something I’d never seen before by balking at the idea of paying for a rookie dinner, which is a meal for a position group paid for by rookies. (For example, I paid $9,600 for one my rookie year.) I don't know if Martin ever ended up paying for one, as I was cut before seeing the outcome.
Martin was expected to play left tackle beside Incognito at guard from the start, so Incognito took him under his wing. They were close friends by all apperances. Martin had a tendency to tank when things would get difficult in practice, and Incognito would lift him up. He’d say, there’s always tomorrow. Richie has been more kind to Martin than any other player.
In other situations, when Martin wasn’t showing effort, Richie would give him a lot of crap. He was a leader on the team, and he would get in your face if you were unprepared or playing poorly. The crap he would give Martin was no more than he gave anyone else, including me. Other players said the same things Incognito said to Martin, so you’d need to suspend the whole team if you suspend Incognito.
Which brings me to my first point: I don’t believe Richie Incognito bullied Jonathan Martin. I never saw Martin singled out, excluded from anything, or treated any differently than the rest of us. We’d have dinners and the occasional night out, and everyone was invited. He was never told he can’t be a part of this. It was the exact opposite. But when he came out, he was very standoffish. That’s why the coaches told the leaders, bring him out of his shell. Figure him out a little bit.
That’s where Incognito ran into a problem. Personally, I know when a guy can’t handle razzing. You can tell that some guys just aren’t built for it. Incognito doesn’t have that filter. He was the jokester on the team, and he joked with everybody from players to coaches. That voicemail he sent came from a place of humor, but where he really screwed up was using the N-word. That, I cannot condone, and it’s probably the biggest reason he’s not with the team right now. Odd thing is, I’ve heard Incognito call Martin the same thing to his face in meetings and all Martin did was laugh. Many more worse things were said about others in the room from all different parties. It’s an Animal House. Now Incognito’s being slandered as a racist and a bigot, and unfortunately that’s never going to be wiped clean because of all the wrong he’s done people in his past. But if you really know who Richie is, he’s a really good, kind man and far from a racist.
In my experience, he’s not the kind of person who would extort someone for $15,000. The notion that Martin was forced to pay for a trip he didn’t attend has been misrepresented.
Playing football is a man’s job, and if there’s any weak link, it gets weeded out. It’s the leaders’ job on the team to take care of it.
Every year, as tradition, the offensive line goes on a big Vegas trip. Everything is paid for in advance, from hotels to a private jet to show tickets. Martin originally verbally committed to the trip, then later backed out after everything was booked. Now, if you can’t go because of an emergency then it’s okay, but to say you’re going and then decide you don’t want to spend the money later? Everything was paid for, and then when it was time to pay up he didn’t want to go anymore. You don’t do that to your brothers. The veterans who paid for it, including Incognito and others, asked for Martin’s share, and he gave it to them. End of story.
The silliest part of this story, to me, is the incident at the cafeteria, in which Martin was supposed to have been hazed when everyone got up from their seats as he sat down. Whoever leaked that story failed to share that getting up from a packed lunch table when one lineman sits down is a running gag that has been around for years. It happened to me more than once, and it happened to Martin because guys on the team say he was overcoming an illness. Just like when a guy is hurt, the joke is, I don’t want to sit with you, you’ve got the bug. Perhaps for Martin it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but when Incognito reached him after he stormed out, Martin told him the departure had nothing to do with Incognito. Martin said it was something else. Then the media onslaught began.
Incognito was made a scapegoat for the hell coming down on the Dolphins organization, which in turn said it knew nothing about any so-called hazing. That’s the most outlandish lie of this whole thing. The coaches know everything. The coaches know who’s getting picked on and in many cases call for that player to be singled out. Any type of denial on that side is ridiculous. I have friends on more than a dozen teams, and it’s the same everywhere. What people want to call bullying is something that is never going away from football. This is a game of high testosterone, with men hammering their bodies on a daily basis. You are taught to be an aggressive person, and you typically do not make it to the NFL if you are a passive person. There are a few, but it’s very hard. Playing football is a man’s job, and if there’s any weak link, it gets weeded out. It’s the leaders’ job on the team to take care of it.
The most unfortunate thing about this situation is the consequence it will have on the careers of both men. Richie’s marked himself now as a racist and a bigot, and unfortunately that could be the end of it. Martin is on the opposite end of the spectrum, but no more likely than Incognito to return to the NFL if he wants. In going to the media with his problem, Martin broke the code, and it shows that he’s not there for his teammates and he’s not standing up for himself. There might be a team that gives him a chance because he’s a good person, but the players will reject him. They’ll think, If I say one thing he’s going to the press. He’ll never earn the respect of teammates and personnel in the NFL because he didn’t take care of business the right way.
What fans should understand is that every day in the NFL there are battles between players worse than what’s being portrayed. This racial slur would be a blip on the radar if everything that happens in the locker room went public. But all over the league, problems are hashed out in house. Either you talk about it or you get physical. But at the end of the day, you handle it indoors.