Locker Room Bullying Leads NFL Player to Walk Out, Teammate Suspended

By Chris Hoenig


Incognito

Multiple media reports suggest that racially charged and abusive text and voice messages sent to a teammate are the reason that an NFL player has been suspended.

Richie Incognito, an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended indefinitely by the team on Sunday following an investigation of bullying and abuse against Jonathan Martin, who walked off the team last week. Incognito and Martin are not only teammates, but they play beside one another; Martin was Miami’s starting left tackle (the outside position on the offensive line) while Incognito was the starting left guard.

Bullying and Abuse

ESPN, FOX Sports and CBS Sports have each reported forms of graphic, vulgar harassment and abuse that Martin was allegedly subjected to by Incognito. The reported incidents are not isolated and have gone on since Martin was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft.

Incognito and Martin

ESPN reports that Incognito, a nine-year veteran, left Martin a voicemail in April that included calling him the N-word (Martin is biracial) and threatening to defecate in his mouth. “Hey, wassup, you half-n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—— mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—— mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.” Both the team and the NFL league offices have reportedly heard the tape and have copies of it.

CBS Sports reports that Incognito also used the slur again in text messages which Martin has shared with his parents. Those messages also reportedly included threats to harm Martin’s family. According to FOX Sports, Martin is in California, undergoing therapy to deal with the emotional issues that have sidetracked his playing career.

Culture of Hate

Before the network’s Monday Night Football telecast, ESPN’s studio team of former players and coaches addressed the messages, the idea that NFL locker rooms are tough places that breed a culture of hate, and the ignorance of the Dolphins organization and players that could allow the behavior to continue.

“I think that Richie Incognito is a racist. I think he’s bigoted. I think he’s a bully. I think it’s all wrapped into one package,” former Denver Broncos’ All-Pro linebacker Tom Jackson said. “I don’t want people to be under the perception that conduct in an NFL locker, that we are not aware of what is societally OK and not OK. I’ve heard a lot of that today. ‘Well, the locker room is a place where people are very different.’ They’re not this different.

“If this kid were to decide that he wasn’t going to come back and play, somebody will have to answer for that, in terms of liability. This is off the charts.”

Martin

Former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who retired after the 2006 season, was also alarmed about the reaction of Martin’s Dolphins teammates. “There is no place any locker room, any work environment, for this type of conduct.” Johnson said. “When you’re a rookie in this league, you come into the league, you may have to carry the pads, you may buy some food or take a guy’s car out to get washed, get tied up to a goalpost, get into the ice tub that’s just part of that. But everything else that’s going on That’s not hazing, that’s bullying. And Tommy’s right, he is a racist. Period. There’s no other way around it.”

Hall of Fame coach Mike Ditka questioned what the Dolphins have done to make and keep the workplace safe for Martin. “I don’t understand why his teammates didn’t step in and do something. I mean, if you see this happening, I just don’t know how you can take it. This kind of behavior, there’s no place for it in sports or anything. I don’t know how this guy got this far in life.”

But perhaps most critical of the Dolphins players was Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter. “I’m disappointed in [center] Mike Pouncey, who’s guy is playing right next to you, if you don’t know. This is criminal information. We’re taking showers together, we’re going on the road together, we’re sleeping together I’m depending on you, man, so I don’t get my neck cracked!

“And they don’t even know this [Ryan] Tannehill, the quarterback, how can he not know How can these guys not know And [Joe] Philbin, as the head coach the reason why coaches in this league are great is because they care about the players. The reason why the guy didn’t talk to him when they met Because he didn’t trust him.

“It’s a shame that nobody could stand up for that kid.”

History of Bullying

That Richie Incognito was on an NFL roster this year is almost mindboggling to some. According to spotrac.com, he’s making a base salary of $4 million, plus over $1 million more in annuitized signing-bonus payments (Martin, meanwhile, received a raise to just over $600,000 this year). The inflated salary comes after a history of bullying and insubordination that traces back to his college days.

Incognito was twice suspended while playing football at the University of Nebraska, where he was also convicted of misdemeanor assault after a fight at a party. ESPN even did a feature story on Incognito that included his revelation that he had been bullied as a kid for being overweight.

Incognito transferred to the University of Oregon in September 2004 but was dismissed from the team just a month later.

Incognito and Smith

In 2009, his NFL colleagues voted him the league’s “dirtiest player” in a poll run by Sporting News. That December, he was released by the St. Louis Rams after a series of personal fouls and an argument with the team’s head coach during a game.

Twice, he incited opponents into aggressive acts that resulted in fines or suspensions. In 2011, Richard Seymour of the Oakland Raiders was fined $30,000 for punching Incognito. This past August, Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith swung his helmet at Incognito during a preseason game and was suspended for the regular-season opener. On Monday, Smith said Incognito’s involvement in Martin’s abuse didn’t shock him. “You are what you are I guess,” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

Incognito took to Twitter to deny any involvement in the abuse:

But then he began challenging one of the ESPN reporters who publicized the messages:

Is Incognito’s aggression a case of “like father, like son” Deadspin uncovered a series of Internet forum posts that appear to have come from Richie Incognito Sr., including his own attacks on Martin. In one, he says that Martin and Pouncey are “Black brothers who do drugs on a regular basis,” and he also claims that Martin has attempted suicide multiple times.

“NFLPA IS NOT TOUCHING THIS WITH A TEN FOOT POLE. It will come out, Martin has tried to kill himself three previous times,” Incognito Sr. writes. “The team is silent because they all know about it, from [Dolphins owner Stephen] Ross on down to [Dolphins General Manager Jeff] Ireland and Philbin. If anybody has seen the latest news, the NFLPA has decided not to look into the case. Jonathan Martin has had mental issues since College, it will all come out in the wash gentleman, believe me.”

Speaking of Ireland and Philbin, the poster also asked readers to “pray Ireland and Philbin die of AIDS.”

Martin walked out of the Dolphins facility last Monday after an apparent lunchroom “prank” went awry and hasn’t returned since. The team released a statement on Sunday morning that initially disputed the reports that Martin was being bullied by teammates. “The notion of bullying is based on speculation and has not been presented to us as a concern from Jonathan or anyone else internally,” the statement read.

Later that evening, the Dolphins released a new statement announcing Incognito’s suspension. “We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time,” the team said. “As we noted earlier, we reached out to the NFL to conduct an objective and thorough review. We will continue to work with the league on this matter.

Incognito

“We received notification today from Jonathan’s representation about allegations of player misconduct. We are taking these allegations very seriously and plan to review the matter further. We have also reached out to the NFL and asked them to conduct an objective and thorough review. As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.”

The Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins have no plans to allow Incognito to return to the locker room and will either cut him or take him off their active roster after his suspension ends.

The bullying and abuse also included hazing, according to various reports. It’s not uncommon for rookies to have to pay for lavish team meals, a practice that apparently continued with the Dolphins as recently as a $30,000 dinner last week, as evidenced by this tweet from defensive tackle Jared Odrick:

But it went further with Martin. Incognito reportedly made Martin shell out $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas that Martin didn’t go on. The abuse also extended well beyond Martin’s rookie season. He missed two days of organized team activities this past spring, though the team reportedly didn’t know the exact reasons why he was unhappy and struggling emotionally.

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