Dolphins bullying saga has teammates playing defense

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill talks to the media during a news conference after practice at the Dolphins training center in Davie, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.
AP Photo/J Pat Carter

DAVIE, Florida The basic role that Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito shared as offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins was protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The roles are now reversed.

Tannehill is defending both Martin and Incognito, the central characters in a bullying saga that has taken both offensive linemen off the field and continued to evolve Wednesday when the NFL appointed a lawyer to investigate possible misconduct within the team workplace. Shortly afterward, many Dolphins spoke out about the matter for the first time - and with at least one questioning Martin's motives.

"I don't know why he's doing this," offensive lineman Tyson Clabo said. "And the only person who knows why, his name is Jonathan Martin."

Two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Martin considered quitting football in the past, with one of those people saying it was because of how other offensive linemen treated him. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the organization has not given specific reasons about his departure from the team.

Incognito is suspended. Martin left the Dolphins last week after a lunchroom prank, and remains excused.

Meanwhile, is reporting that before Martin left the team on Oct. 28, Martin's agent, Rick Smith, called Dolphins Jeff Ireland and let him know about the situation involving Incognito. Sources said Ireland allegedly told Smith that Martin should "punch" Incognito. That never happened and Martin decided to leave the team.

"If you had asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said. "The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan."

The prank was a silly one - when Martin sat down to eat, everyone else at the table stood up and walked away. It's apparently a go-to comedic ploy for the Dolphins; Tannehill and offensive lineman John Jerry both said they've been targets of that very act in the past, and that it's typically just laughed off.

Not this time. Martin left the team on Oct. 28 after it happened. The story has continued spiraling ever since, with questions about not only whether bullying was tolerated, but if Incognito used racially charged terms against his teammate in phone and text messages. Incognito is white. Martin is biracial.

"What's perceived is that he was a racist, psychopath maniac," Clabo said, defending Incognito. "The reality is Richie was a good teammate, and that Richie and Jonathan Martin were friends, or appeared to be."

Added Jerry, who is black, speaking about Incognito's alleged use of a racial slur: "I know the type of person he is and I know he don't mean it that way."

CBS News special correspondent and host of "The NFL Today" James Brown said it was "shallow" to ignore the racial slur simply because some black teammates have said the language that Incognito used was ok.

"The use of racial epithets, derogatory, vile language about the young man and his mother by any stretch of the imagination is not to be condoned and I think it's very intellectually shallow to suggest simply because some black ball players supported that, that it makes it right," Brown said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. reports that at a media session Wednesday, wide receiver Brian Hartline appeared angry with Martin, pointing out that the second-year lineman "was laughing about the voicemail" from Incognito that featured a racial slur.

"One, if I'm not mistaken, this was the same guy who was laughing about the voicemail at one point in time," Hartline said. "Second of all, if you go through the whole voicemail there are some things said that you probably shouldn't say in general, friends or not friends. But with that being said I never thought it was a death threat. I never thought he was going to do the things he said. If you can't take validity from one part of the voicemail how can you take validity from the whole -- you can't pick and choose which parts count and which parts don't. In my mind I think it was something that was taken advantage of."

How everything inside the Dolphins locker room is meant will now be probed by New York attorney Ted Wells, the NFL's choice to dig into the matter. Wells has experience with high-profile sports matters, having been involved with special investigations into the Syracuse basketball sexual harassment case and the NBA players union leadership dispute.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said the team will cooperate fully with Wells' investigation.

"The type of culture that I've championed since the day I've walked through these doors has been one of honesty, respect and accountability to one another," Miami coach Joe Philbin said. "I consider those to be hallmarks of this program, and I believe our locker room reflects those beliefs. I believe in the men in our locker room, and I believe in our coaching staff."

CBS' Brown praised the move of bringing in Wells, saying his track record is "impeccable."

Inside that locker room, players defended both themselves and Philbin.

"What's been bothering me is kind of things that you hear from outside this locker room about things that maybe undermine the integrity or the leadership or the type of players and the class of guys that we have here and the class of this organization," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "I've been here five years and coach Philbin has done nothing but turn this organization in a positive direction from top to bottom."

Clabo said there's a way the offensive linemen treat one another, that no one is exempt from the ribbing and that it's done to keep the mood light in the room.

"You have to earn the trust of your teammates in this league," Clabo said. "No one is going to walk in the door and just automatically be somebody that you want to go into a game with and believe and trust and know that that person's going to be there when he's supposed to be there. Those things have to be earned."

At this point, it's unknown if Martin will have that trust - or even if he'll return to the Dolphins.

Tannehill said that if either Martin or Incognito returned, he would be inclined to try to move on from this saga.

"All I know about Richie is he's a great teammate to me," Tannehill said. "I saw him being a great teammate all the time. Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes. But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room and he was the best teammate that I could ask for."

The case has shed light on the tradition of hazing in the NFL.

Players on other teams recounted stories this week of bringing breakfast sandwiches to players at their position or purchasing trays of food before road trips. But none revealed anything approaching the $15,000 that Martin reportedly coughed up for a Las Vegas trip other players took. Or the types of text messages apparently involved.

Washington veteran Nick Barnett explained that younger players are sometimes stuck with $5,000 dinner tabs. They're told to tote the helmets or pads of older players. Men who are often well above 6-feet (1.8-meters) tall are held down and given unwanted haircuts or get their eyebrows shaved.

"You have different people, different personalities, different cultures in here, and it's not going to be the same as in an accountant's office or Wall Street. Same as our armed forces," Barnett said, standing at his locker after Washington's practice. "But every social setting has its standards, and when (you) cross those standards ... especially with a guy who is 6-something-foot tall, 300 pounds ... not coming to practice because he feels bullied or whatever the case is, now we have an issue."

Several players said they think it's up to players to prevent the behavior that goes beyond good-natured joking.

That, they say, was the failure in Miami.

"I know Jonathan Martin didn't feel comfortable enough to go to any of the guys, because either you're encouraging it or you're just turning a blind eye and allowing the guy to get treated like he was getting treated," Washington veteran London Fletcher said. "And that's the biggest thing that disappointed me. ... There was not a veteran guy strong enough to stop what was happening."