'Honorary' Black Man: Just How Twisted Is the Miami Dolphins Locker Room

By Chris Hoenig


Let’s face it: The Jonathan MartinRichie Incognito controversy has left our heads spinning, if your mind isn’t already completely blown by now.

Were the two teammates friends Did Martin say anything to anyone, warning that the relentless bullying was tearing him apart inside Just what on earth is actually going on here Let’s just simplify it: The Miami Dolphins locker room is a twisted, twisted world where civility and reality just don’t seem to exist. Or as ESPN’s Jason Whitlock put it, “Welcome to Incarceration Nation, where the mindset of the Miami Dolphins locker room mirrors the mentality of a maximum-security prison yard and where a wide swath of America believes the nonviolent intellectual needs to adopt the tactics of the barbarian.”

Jonathan Martin is just that, a nonviolent intellectual. He’s the son of Harvard grads, a Stanford graduate himself. He’s accused by many, including his teammates, of being soft, when maybe he’s just soft-spoken. He’s not the merciless, evil, rude monster that thrives in that locker room, but a moderate, educated, refined man; the kind who has the respect of his old college coach for taking a stand against bullying.

Martin’s teammates say he treated and viewed Incognito as a friend. His lawyer said he attempted to befriend Incognito and other abusive teammates “with the hope that doing so would end the harassment.This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying.” The lawyer’s statement ends with a graphic and vulgar text message about Martin’s sister, sent by one of those teammates.

“Honorary” Black

To understand the Dolphins locker room (OK, maybe it’s impossible to really understand the Dolphins locker room), you need read but one line. Dolphins beat writer Armando Salguero spoke with several players and locker-room sources and summed it up thusly: “Martin was considered less Black than Incognito.”

In fact, one former Dolphins player went so far as to call Incognito an “honorary” Black man. “I don’t expect you to understand because you’re not Black,” the player told Salguero. “But being a Black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It’s about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from.What you’ve experienced. A lot of things.”

In the Dolphins locker room, being an “honorary” Black man isn’t just a thing, it’s normal. It’s as normal as ripping your shirt off and stomping around a bar, wildly screaming and dropping the N-word. It’s as normal as the hate-filled, abusive messages sent to Martin. And only in the Dolphins locker room is having a bigoted, racist bully being depicted as a bigoted, racist bully considered “sad.” Because in the Dolphins locker room, how can you be racist if you’re an “honorary” Black man

Bully Deflects Blame

“I’m not a racist. And to judge me by that one word is wrong.”

Incognito broke his silence over the weekend, giving an in-depth interview to FOX Sports. He denied he’s a racist and excuses all of the hateful, harassing messages sent Martin’s way. “My actions were coming from a place of love,” he said. “No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate, that’s how our friendship was, and those are the facts.”

He did acknowledge that to the world outside that “normal” Dolphins locker room, it doesn’t look right, using the “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it isn’t always a duck” defense. “It sounds like I’m a racist pig, it sounds like I’m a meathead. It sounds a lot of things that it’s not. And I want to clear the air just by saying I’m a good person.”

Incognito admitted to leaving the well-publicized voicemail message, but also blamed Martin and said that the language and the N-word were commonly used between the two and in the locker room. “It’s thrown around a lot. It’s a word that I’ve heard Jon use a lot. Not saying it’s right for when I did it in the voicemail, but there’s a lot of colorful words thrown around the locker room that we don’t use in everyday life. The fact of the matter remains, though, that that voicemail was left on a private voicemail for my friend, and it was a joke.”

You can watch the full interview with Incognito below:

Standing Up Against Racism

While his Dolphins teammates have lined up to support him, Incognito appeared to be losing one key ally on Monday. DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association (which is in the awkward position of representing both Martin and Incognito), spoke with ESPN before this week’s Monday Night Football telecast. “I’m not comfortable with anything in our locker rooms that’s not professional,” he said when asked about hazing. “When those things are taken to an extreme, where it is either hurtful or is not constructive, the goal of our player leaders, and the goal of our union, will be that our locker rooms are a professional place to play.”

And when it comes to the language used by Incognito, including the N-word, Smith says there is no place for that in the locker room. “As the father of two kids, [including] a son who’s 14 who certainly likes his music, I can tell you our conversations are, when certain words are said, I make it abundantly clear about what the root and what that word means. I don’t believe there’s a place for it. For people who understand the hateful history behind it, no, I don’t think there’s a place for it in our locker rooms.”

Meanwhile, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who is known as one of the more hands-off owners in the league, told ESPN’s Mike Tirico that he doesn’t want to overreact. “I’m going to meet with Jonathan Martin face to face and hear what he has to say,” Ross said. “Then I will deal with it from there. So much has been said about a lot of different things.” He demonstrated how little control he has over the locker room when he described his reaction to the messages Martin received: “I was appalled. I think anybody would be appalled,” he said. “When you first read that text that was reported, to me I didn’t realize people would talk, text or speak that way.”

To help try to keep him from overreacting, Ross has set up a task force that will help him figure out how to improve the in-house culture of the Dolphins. “He wants to look forward and see how he could ensure their locker room and whole organization was operating in the best way,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who has agreed to join the task force, said about Ross. “He wanted to get some former players that he respects and former coaches, and put together a recommendation of best practices.

“I think he’s very serious. I think he’s disappointed that this happened on his watch, and it could have happened to anybody,” Dungy continued. “People ask me how much should a coach know How much should you be aware of what’s going on You do have to count on your players, your leadership. I’m standing around a bunch of guys [in Tampa] who made it happen for me. What I did is set the atmosphere on what my expectations are. But I counted on Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp to let me know. As a coach, you are kind of counting on that.”

Dolphins “Leadership” Council

People question why Martin never approached management. NFL analysts and former players say he broke an unwritten rule by taking locker-room issues public and that it could cost him any chance of playing again. But who was Martin supposed to seek help from The team’s general manager, who reportedly suggested that Martin should settle the issue by punching Incognito, possibly sparking a schoolyard-style fight

Or perhaps Martin should have approached one of the members of the team’s leadership council, a group of players designated to serve as a bridge between the team and its hands-off coach and ownership. After all, last year’s leadership council was so successful that all of the players on it are still looked up to as leaders … on other teams. Not a single one of the four players on last year’s council even made it to training camp with the team this year, having been released (Karlos Dansby), traded (Davone Bess), or just allowed to walk after their contracts expired (Jake Long and Reggie Bush).

Still, Martin could have gone to this year’s leadership council, right There are six “leaders” he could have sought advice and help from. Who cares that one of them is the abuser and bully himself Or that another, center Mike Pouncey, has been served with a grand-jury subpoena because he’s old chums with former NFLer and accused murderer Aaron Hernandez

Surely, Incognito and Pouncey could have told Martin that the threats, slurs and harassment were just joking. They’re buddies, they’re pals. Incognito had Martin’s back. Just like Pouncey’s pal, Hernandez, had Odin Lloyd’s … until the day he allegedly murdered Lloyd, of course.

Here, the barbarian is seen as a friend and as a key piece of the puzzle for success. Never mind that Incognito was kicked out of the University of Nebraska, or that the Cornhuskers were plenty successful without him. Never mind that the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him, shipped him out as quickly as you can say “bully” and haven’t been any worse off than they were before. Stanford’s intellectuals surely can’t compete with the likes of USC’s or UCLA’s tradition and recruiting advantages (for the record, Stanford routinely finishes at or near the top of the Pac-12). Here, brute and brawn are more important than brains.

And that’s why, as Whitlock writes, “Finally, [Martin] snapped. He wasn’t raised to be a full-blown idiot. He was raised to think and solve problems with his mind. He was savvy enough to figure out a physical confrontation with Incognito was a no-win situation. It wouldn’t curb Incognito’s behavior or change the culture inside the Miami locker room. It would confirm it.

“If the entry fee to being an NFL offensive lineman is adopting the mindset of Incognito and Pouncey, Martin wisely chose not to pay it. He has a developed brain and a supportive family unit. He’s not desperate.”

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