Did the Dolphins Do Anything Wrong?

The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin story has put the spotlight squarely on the infrastructure of the Miami Dolphins organization. Who knew what and when? With the amount of support staff watching the players, everything is noticed

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·
How much head coach Joe Philbin knew about the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito relationship has been the subject of speculation as this Miami Dolphins saga has unfolded. (J Pat Carter/AP)
How much head coach Joe Philbin knew about the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito relationship has been the subject of speculation as this Miami Dolphins saga has unfolded. (J Pat Carter/AP)

Occasionally there is a story that moves the needle past the sports pages and into the larger spotlight of societal issues and public concern. That is now the case with the news out of Miami involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. To me, the information that has become public knowledge—including the explosive voicemails, comments from Dolphins players, an ex-teammate’s insider look—only raises more questions than it answers. And as signaled by the NFL appointing investigator Ted Wells to do a thorough review of the situation, we are still in the early chapters of this book.

Beyond the discussion of locker room culture and what is acceptable in the testosterone-filled world of professional football, let’s look at more systemic issues of the Miami Dolphins as well as every NFL team.

Solid man, solid coach

Inside The Miami Saga

A former Dolphins offensive lineman pulls back the curtain on the relationship between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. FULL STORY


I remember when Joe Philbin came into the Packer organization, having come from coaching offensive linemen at the University of Iowa, which was preceded by time at Harvard. I found him to be different than the stereotypical offensive line coach: the snarling, in-your-face coach trying to coax the most out of a group of oversized guys who often travel in packs. Joe was intelligent, almost cerebral, with a strong value system and a true family-first hierarchy in his life.

Joe, of course, had the unspeakable loss of his son in January 2012 in what turned out to be his final month in Green Bay. And I know this: he, his wife Diane and their children left a lasting impact on the Green Bay community. They are missed there as they touched many lives in that area.

I also know offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and his family quite well, having worked closely with Mike when he was head coach and general manager of the Packers. Mike, like Joe, is a principled leader with strong moral fiber and, like Joe, extremely devoted to his family.

Both Joe and Mike are solid and upright men; I have seen that up close. Thus, it makes it hard to reconcile reports of either tacit approval of Incognito’s reported actions towards Martin or, worse, encouragement of it. As we all should, I will wait until the facts come out in the independent investigation, but the reports of what happened under Joe and Mike’s watch seem out of character for what I saw up close with them.

Sanctity of the locker room

The “what did they know” question is difficult: one of degree and dependent on context and the atmosphere and philosophy of the organization. Personal issues between players are usually kept below the surface, rarely rising to the level of involvement from the coaches or the front office. And the locker room is, in the view of most organizations, a sanctuary for the players, safe from intrusion from coaches and management (although I was usually quite welcome in the Packers’ locker room, as I sometimes came bearing paychecks).

On the field, coaches know exactly what is going on with the players. Inside the locker room, however, can be a different story. (Tom DiPace/AP)
On the field, coaches know exactly what is going on with the players. Inside the locker room, however, can be a different story. (Tom DiPace/AP)

To some players, the locker room is even more: it can be a player’s office and perhaps even a refuge from problems at home. I remember seeing one player who always stayed late sitting at his locker until well into the evening. I asked him once why he always stayed so late. He replied that he simply did not want to go home. When that happened, I referred him for some counseling, which he appreciated.

Last month I detailed the dysfunctional atmosphere of mistrust in Tampa Bay, noting that I heard similar accounts from different player agents of random walks through the locker room by coaches, seen as a breach of trust by the staff. There have also been reports over the years of other teams’ coaches and management secretly recording the locker room, giving those coaches and management reputations that are hard to overcome.

The bartenders

There are certain team employees, however, that have a better handle on what is happening with the players than others. Teams have several layers to them, and the best organizations have strong communication channels between those layers without barriers to access.

I always thought some of the most integral members of our staff were what I call the “bartenders” of the team. These are employees that pick up on the vibe of the team and any percolating issues while performing their important duties. The bartenders include staff from the following areas: equipment management, training, security, strength and conditioning and even facility operations. In my experience, players were more comfortable around these employees than even their position coaches and certainly more than coordinators, head coaches and management. Brett Favre, for instance, had a wonderful relationship with these guys, hunting with some and having a couple down to Mississippi to visit. The bartenders are the eyes and ears of the organization.

There were rare times when player issues gleaned from the bartenders merited involvement from higher levels of the organization. They knew the information they heard was kept from moving through channels of the organization unless it was serious enough to warrant attention. I rarely intervened in player issues and only when it was called for. Some examples of issues that I felt called for “interventions” were (1) when a player was livid that another had “stolen” a marketing deal that the player thought he had; (2) a player who felt a position coach was “out to get him” (we had a sit down with him and the coach and talked through it); and (3) a dispute between players about a woman (there are always women). Those issues, however, seem rather benign compared to what we are hearing in Miami.

With the amount of people in an NFL organization devoted to the product—the players—it would be surprising for this behavior to go unnoticed. 

All NFL teams also now have a Director of Player Engagement (formerly called Director of Player Programs), someone specifically entrusted with assisting players, especially younger ones, assimilate into the team as well as provide guidance to interpersonal issues between players. My sense is we will hear more about the person at the Dolphins entrusted with this role, Kaleb Thornhill, though it’s important to stress we know nothing about his involvement in the situation.

We simply do not know which Dolphins employees knew what about this 18-month relationship between Incognito and Martin. Nor do we know when the behavior of Incognito moved from “boys will be boys” to something more sinister. It was reported that Incognito was told to “toughen up” Martin, but that is yet another piece of information coming out of this story that needs more context, which will hopefully come out in the investigation.

I will say this: with the amount of people in an NFL organization devoted to the product—the players—it would be surprising for this behavior to go unnoticed. There would appear to be, at best, a failure to appreciate the gravity of the conduct or, at worst, an empowerment of the continued behavior.

What now?

As my saying goes … there will be lawyers. In addition to Wells, there will be at least one lawyer for everyone: Martin (including his parents, both lawyers), Incognito, the NFLPA, the NFL and most importantly, the Dolphins. I am sure the Dolphins are huddling with inside and outside counsel to explore what they knew and potential exposure and liability.

I would also expect active involvement from the agents of the two players, both experienced and respected by teams. Martin is represented by Kenny Zuckerman of Priority Sports and Incognito is represented by Dave Dunn of Athletes First. (Dunn, representative for Aaron Hernandez and Alfonzo Dennard among others, has had an eventful year.) 

With the bounty case, concussion stories and now this, the seamy underbelly of the NFL is being exposed. Events like these pull back the curtain on a grainy and graphic book behind the glossy and glittery cover. Stay tuned.

19 comments
Toof
Toof

Just my take, so take it easy on me if you disagree...

J. Martin gets drafted by the Dolphins. He get's the usual rookie hazing. He thinks it will be one year and the hazing will stop. He goes through that first year and he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The hazing will stop when he is a 2nd year player. Then, he starts getting the same crap he was getting as the Dolphins are getting ready for 2013, the second season for Martin. Martin thinks, OK, it will go away as soon as the season starts because he's no longer a rookie. It doesn't stop. Dolphins are 3-0 and the treatment of Martin continues. His "play" in-game degrades. His QB is getting the brunt of Martin's lack of focus. Coaches think it is an issue of 'toughness.' Martin is still getting treated as if he was a rookie. Martin tries to get along. He uses epithets that have never come out of his mouth but he can type them or send 'memes' with them to one or other antagonizers. He thinks it's going to be OK. Dolphins have dropped three in a row but he is feeling better about it all... he thinks its going away. Dolphins win and they are 4-3... All is good... until one day at lunch. A prank usually saved for rookies is pulled on him when his 'guys' call him over to sit with them since they are the 'offensive linemen.' He sits, everyone leaves. Martin explodes and for him exploding, it is internal. He can't handle it any more. He thought it was over but it's starting again. He has had enough. His dream is over. He leaves.

Cut to Martin at home in California. Parents are confused. Their son is home because he doesn't want to play in the NFL anymore. They know that his entire life was planned around football. They made sure he went to a prestigious school so that just in case football didn't work out... Martin's parents are those kind of parents. Always looking out for their kid. They sit with him and he explains that the 'culture' of the NFL is not for him. He says he's done.

Parents being parents and in this case also lawyers start looking into why their son's passion is no longer his passion. They interrogate their son, as parents often do. They find the voicemail. They find the texts. (And yes some people don't erase their voice mails, like me) They find the horrible, horrible things. The parents, being lawyers, take action. They find another lawyer that has experience in dealing with the NFL. They show him what they found. Jonathan Martin intervenes. He says that he does not want to sue anyone, be it the NFL, Dolphins, the coaches or even Richie Incognito. He says teammates don't do that but parents have the ball now. They tell him that this kind of thing doesn't happen everywhere in the NFL. Hired lawyer assures Jonathan that no one is going to sue anyone but this has to be shown, heard by everyone, not for just Jonathan's situation but for all other players in the NFL trying to 'handle' their situation in the locker room. Lawyer says to Jonathan, "Just tell the truth."

<<< Have you noticed that no one is suing anyone? Why isn't Incognito suing for pay? Why isn't Martin suing everybody and anybody associated with the Dolphins for workplace harassment? Can you imagine Martin's parents wanting to sue and sue some more? Their kid has had his dream taken! If I was Martin's parent, I would want to sue the entire state... but Martin's parents aren't pushing that. I think Martin is a tough man. There is no way that you can be the blindside tackle for Andrew Luck and also graduate Standford and not be a tough man. I don't think Martin is running his end of this debacle anymore. His parents and his lawyer are under the guise of 'we're doing this for Jonathan and all workplaces.' Jonathan just wants to play football without all the extra crap. He took it for a year like all rookies. It should have stopped there. As for Richie, he learned from the wrong people. He thinks that others are like him. He tried to learn how to act but when he starts drinking, he loses control of what he has learned. In my opinion, he needs to go to rehab and get on the wagon. When he is sober, he just another guy, I hope. He's not crazy and I don't think he even knows what being a racist means and because of that, when he says things like a racist, he doesn't understand why people call him a racist. He is lucky that Martin's parents aren't suing him right now and I think Jonathan is holding them back from doing so. Now, we wait to hear what the NFL has to say about it all and heads will roll. I also think this entire thing could have been avoided if one player would have chased after Jonathan after the lunchroom incident and apologized and by that player, I mean Richie. >>>

swille
swille

To listen to Incognito" interview, he blames it on locker room mentality in the NFL. Like its not his fault they make him act that way. No way do coaches not know what is going on. Most Coaches are close to their players and strive to get the best out of them.  

Lot of denying going on by the coach and Tannehill. Made me lose all respect for Philbin and Tannehill and after their interview.  

Maybe because I believe like former players and coaches spoke on --how could you go against one in your own and treat him so badly. Martin was their teammate not their rival players and even on your rival team there are limits as Incognito is well aware of.

Incognito made a quote and thought Winston Churchill was the author when instead it was Mark Twain. If Incognito wants to quote men he should read the quotes of Edmund Burke.

Some former NFL player was astonished no one on the team stood up for Martin as there were times in his career that this had to be done when a player was going too far with another player which reminds me of my favorite quote by Burke when its explained as   "when good men do nothing, they get nothing good done."  






gary41
gary41

Some writers here seem to be a bit too close to some of the coaches.  There is a big disconnect between the well knit Packer's organization and the patched together mess in Miami.  Truth is, the Dolphin's organization didn't do anything right.  They not only approved, but encouraged Incognito's behavior, while Jeff Ireland, all but slammed the door shut, when telling Martin's agent--he should have punched him.  I've got news for you.  That is not OK in the NFL or anywhere, although a lot of reports will be denied and lawyers will distort interpretations and meanings of phrases.  The only thing missing now are astute legal opinions, conspicuously absent.       

JohnSmith29
JohnSmith29

former Football Player: When Richie Incognito says a racial slur to another teammate he should be kicked off the team and banned from the league. Insulting someone's race is a terroristic attack, and for the Dolphins teammates to stand up a...nd defend this teammate is a crime in its self. For they knew that Incognito was terrorizing him and they did nothing but stand on the sidelines. I feel ashamed to even watch them as professional football team. Furthermore for anyone to say that they do not know what is happening all they need to do is hear his rant on TMZ and hear the voicemail. That is all the evidence that anyone would need. There is no excuse for this, it is a crime for anyone to excuse his actions in anyway. Those who are trying to excuse Incognito's actions they were a part of terrorizing Martin

JackWilliams
JackWilliams

The Martin camp strategy may just be looking for a release. There probably are two teams out there who will pick him up as he passes through waivers: Indy and SF.  Those are the two teams where he has a chance for success in the respective lockerrooms because of his relationship with coaches and/or players on those two teams. I doubt any other teams would try to block Martin passing through to those teams because (a) he hadn't been playing well recently, and (2) the league office will want Martin to go to a team where his success probability is high. Martin's attorney Cornwall detests NFLPA's honcho Smith and will most likely try to embarrass the NFLPA for it's do-nothing role in this mess. I am surprised why more people are not shocked that Roger Goodell has made no statement on this matter to the NFL fans. For a man who is so adamant on player safety, where is his voice on this embarrassing matter?

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

again he will play again and don't be suprised if he ends up in san fran or indy when it's all said and done as indy has his former college qb that he protected and oh yeah harbaugh was his coach.  look the more and more that is coming out, the more and more is it looks like incogntio, the miami coaching staff and also jeff ireland all end up losing there jobs and i don't see ireland ever being a team gm again and i think no team will hire him for any role, as again remember ireland is the same guy that asked if dez bryant's mom was a hooker when he was with the cowboys

dougb123
dougb123

Nor do we know when the behavior of Incognito moved from “boys will be boys” to something more sinister

That statement assumes Incognito is guilty 

A few more facts for some that don't follow Dolphins football may not know. Martin was replaced at left tackle the week before by Bryant McKinnie and was replaced by Tyson Clabo at half time in last weeks game, so his starting status anywhere on the line was in doubt. Martin also plays much better on the left side then he does the right. If he played anywhere it would be the right.

After Martin left the team on the simple pranks his pay check was not going to come and most teams wouldn't even look at him if he did try to come (assumption of mine) back. So how we have what we have and Martin is still getting pay (another assumption) and possible getting another shot at the NFL. Martin will throw anyone under the buss guess that is what comes from being raised by lawyers...

Xception2Drule
Xception2Drule

Incognito may be a first class douche, but considering Martin is taking advantage of that, at the expense of his teammates and team, for his personal agenda makes him the same.... no wonder they always hung out together.

There will be a lawsuit and Martin will get paid- but I hope he chokes on the money. 

If the locker room is a hostile environment, it's a hostile environment for everyone and not just Martin- so why doesn't every player just file a complaint and cash in... you can bet Martin's lawyer would love to see that, but it won't happen... integrity still exists for some.

eddie767
eddie767

@dougb123 Incognito is guilty of at least one thing,his racist voice mail. Whether you or i think it is,the NFL already has said it is. Whatever comes next is in his and teams court. But,as of right now the Fins have also left him out to dry. In his best interest,he better try to make a deal with NFL and get even with those who did himwrong,the team,and try counseling like most in his position do. Sometimes keeping quiet is the wrong move and this is one of those times.

cornersss
cornersss

@dougb123 , not even a week but just a few days before his meltdown.


Im waiting for former Martin teammates from college and HS to come out about how Martin hazed them when he was on other side of fence

EP1
EP1

@Xception2Drule what is Martins agenda? I don't see what he has to gain. And despite message posts saying he wants out of football... he/his lawyers and former roommate (playing for eagles I believe) say otherwise (im not going to argue if he will or not just saying he does want to play). He has money from a pro football contract after being drafted in the 2nd round and this is just stereotyping, I dont think the Stanford grad with a high IQ (search his wonderlic score) will have and issue finding a job. And why is a hostile working environment a hostile one for all? that would not be true if there is only person being singled out.

greggc1000x
greggc1000x

@guyrand0m The wording here is a little harsh, but the memory of this incident popped into my mind as well. None of us knows what, if any, culpability Joe Philbin had for what happened. But the fact is, his son raped two young girls IN THE PHILBIN HOME. Given that, the fact that the author goes out of his way to cite the positive impact of Philbin's kids on the Green Bay community as evidence of Joe Philbin's "solid character" is actually bizarre. If the author didn't know about the rape incident, then the credibility of his pronouncements on Philbin's character is seriously in question. If the author DID know about the incident, then raising the issue of how Philbin's kids affected Green Bay seems perverse to the point of being twisted, in fact. Either way: Andrew Brandt, I think you have some explaining to do.

Xception2Drule
Xception2Drule

@guyrand0m That's ugly- was that the same son that was on drugs and drowned?

However, not sure what that has to do with anything here. Are you inferring that Joe Philbin condoned rap.e and is therefore likely to condone/promote bullying in his locker room?

That's a pretty big leap without any supporting facts, and a pretty low thing to do morally wise if so.

EP1
EP1

@cornersss i doubt it... but hey... you can write back in if I am wrong and I will say I am wrong. 

Xception2Drule
Xception2Drule

@EP1 @Xception2Drule If this goes to a lawsuit as it is believed, then the agenda is $. It will not be as simple for him to find another job as many may think- evidence of that is the 7 or so GMs sampled anonymously said they wouldn't. 

Nobody denies Martin's intelligence- he still aspires to become a lawyer and I think he's smart enough to become one. 

As for the hostile environment, according to both the current and previous players interviewed (if you believe them), Martin wasn't treated any differently in that locker than anyone else. Therefore if he has grounds to take offense to what incognito said/did, or the hostility of the environment, then everybody else in that room does too.

guyrand0m
guyrand0m

@Xception2Drule Yeah, that was the same son.

I should have elaborated more, but I wasn't inferring that Philbin condoned what his son did or that he was somehow responsible.  Instead, I was referring to Andrew Brandt's use of Philbin's family and son's death as an example of his character. Citing Philbin's family as upstanding when one was a piece of garbage is absurd and frankly insulting to the rape victims.

EP1
EP1

@Xception2Drule I agree that it is a stretch. But, as I said in another post... paper trail. Maybe certain behavior is acceptable to Philbin. That may not be a stretch. Take incognito. While I do think RI is not the issue, the issue is the culture of the male locker room, nobody is surprised that Incognito is involved in this because his history shows this kind of pattern. 

Sid2
Sid2

@EP1 @Xception2Drule 

Incognito does not belong in the NFL. He strides though the locker room looking for primacy- putting himself above the team. The goal of an NFL team is to win a championship. You don't do that by being bully-in-chief and tearing the Team apart. Philbin should be let go because he's clearly lost control of the team. Ireland has a racist history-and- one can bet that there's more coming if he remains with the Dolphins. if the owner has any courage (and that's questionable at this point) he should clear out the entire staff and start fresh. it's clear that this group of players and coaches aren't winning anything.

Newsletter