For those of you who haven’t been following the news, there’s been a very weird series of developments in Miami, unrelated to the usual Florida Man-style developments that go on down there. No! It’s with their professional football team, the Miami Dolphins. Here’s a rough rundown of the whole thing:
- Offensive lineman Jonathan Martin returns from an unspecified illness and sits down at a table only to have his teammates get up and leave. Two days later, it is reported that he left the team citing “emotional reasons.” A teammate called it an “emotional breakdown” and according to reports, Martin “flipped out, smashed a food tray on the ground, took off and they haven’t seen him since.”
- Reports emerged that Martin’s fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito was the ringleader of the bullying, and reports of voicemails in which he used racial slurs and threatened Martin’s family. Higher ups in the Dolphin organization expressed confusion, saying Incognito was “a model citizen.” Meanwhile, the NFL Players’ Association launched an investigation of bullying and harassment in the Dolphins organization and Martin retained a lawyer.
- Martin paid $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas that he did not attend. Former Dolphin offensive lineman Lydon Murtha claimed that Martin backed out of the trip after committing to it and, with the reservations, tickets and things already paid for, was held to a previous commitment.
- Relatedly, reports emerged of younger Dolphin players being used as ATMs for veterans, including regularly paying $30,000 restaurant bills and generally fund their lavish lifestyle–one younger player said he is basically broke because of it.
- Incognito is suspended indefinitely and almost certain not to ever play for the Dolphins again. He is in the final year of his contract. Martin has two years remaining after this one.
- According to Incognito, he exchanged 19 texts back and forth with Martin after his leaving the team, including Martin saying in one, “Yeah, I’m good man. It’s insane bro, but just know I don’t blame you guys at all. It’s just the culture around football, and the locker room got to me a little.”
- Stories from Richie Incognito’s past re-emerge, including his expulsion from the Nebraska and Oregon football teams, his reputation as the dirtiest player in the NFL, various other fights, as well as on-field incidents revolving around an inability to control his temper. Most notably, a TMZ video of Incognito acting like a lunatic and using the N-word surfaced.
- Reports say Miami’s coaches told Incognito to toughen up Martin prior to the incident.
- Reports find Maritn checked into a South Florida hospital upon leaving the team citing “emotional distress.”
- Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland suggested that Martin should punch Incognito.
- Miami Dolphins players such as quarterback Ryan Tannehill, wide receiver Brian Hartline, offensive lineman Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie expressed surprise at the idea that Incognito was bullying Martin, support for Incognito, including intimating that Martin might not be welcome back in the locker room, and that he had passed around the offending Incognito voicemail, laughingly.
- Jonathan Martin’s lawyer released a statement saying the abuse was not confined to Richie Incognito, and that a different teammate had made sexual remarks to Martin about his sister.
- A player survey found more players supported Martin than Incognito.
So–what the hell is going on here? Who knows–we’re not there. But let’s take some educated* guesses anyway, and go over what we’ve learned.
What a Mess
None of that adds up to a coherent story? Is Incognito the scapegoat? Is there a massive institutional failure from the top down? Did Martin betray his teammates by making this public, in particular–why do we even know about the $15,000 Las Vegas trip thing? Will more young players come forward? (Early returns suggest “no.”) Did Richie Incognito think he was bullying Martin, or is he just an un-self-aware dick? Is Martin just soft and should’ve been able to handle it? Should teammates have stepped in and stopped it? What is “it” exactly?
Jonathan Martin is literally the perfect bullying victim
If you had to pick someone who would be likely to be bullied, they’d be soft-spoken, from Harvard educated parents, have attended an elite private high school and then an elite private college. As such, they’d have trouble adjusting to the NFL culture, and would not really have any friends with whom to confide if something is awry. Also, they’d be more willing to be honest about their feelings and say publicly that they had been bullied.
They’d be drafted high, but not so high as to be viewed as a cornerstone of the team’s future, and then underperform. Coaches would probably ride that player harder to get them to show some fire and intensity. Their natural inclination would not be to be fiery and intense. In fact, their draft stock would go down due to concerns over their toughness. They’d be biracial, so they would have fewer obvious allies to connect with on a racial front. And they’d be a kicker. So, really, it’s just the last one in his case.
The elephant in the room is Jonathan Martin’s mental health. Now, it’d be unreasonable to speculate on this topic other than to say that Martin had just returned to the team after an unspecified illness and then promptly left it. But again, NFL players sucha as Brandon “Borderline Beast” Marshall have dealt with mental health issues in the NFL and not had this happen. The key thing that makes Martin different–if it does come out that Martin has depression or some other mental health disorder–is that he was willing to brave this enormous amount of media coverage in order to get help for himself, in which case, more power to him.
Regardless of how you feel about this whole thing, it’s clearly no accident that Jonathan Martin was the guy who was at the center of it.
We Now Have A New Face Of Bullying
I mean, Jesus Christ, could that guy look more like a bully? He could not! Excitingly, the next few weeks (months, even!) will provide lots of opportunity to compare anyone who ever does anything remotely close to bullying to Richie Incognito. “Hey, get out of my seat.” “Okay, take it easy, Richie Incognito.” The fun will never end. We haven’t really had a good person who we could identify with bullying. I guess Nelson Muntz, but really, this is better. Also, his name is Richie Incognito! Think of the fantasy football team name possibilities!
Richie Incognito is probably the scapegoat
Let’s be honest here–there’s never just one bully. But even if Richie Incognito was the ringleader of whatever weird bullying rituals they were doing, it’s clear nobody is willing to jump on that grenade to save him. The reaction from Dolphins players was basically, “Nah, we like Richie,” which implies that whatever he did wasn’t considerably worse than what other people were doing.
What Jonathan Martin did was bad for the Miami Dolphins
No question about it–whether it was the right thing to do (and maybe there was a better way to handle it–but even supposing this was the best way), a big public debacle that ends with a team that’s been skidding losing two starting offensive lineman is a disaster on a football level, and helps explain why his teammates are clearly pissed at him, whether he was doing what was best for him or not.
Hazing is still stupid
Hazing accomplishes nothing. It’s stupid. It builds resentment, not team unity. Not helpful!
The Miami Dolphins clearly have an institutional problem
Their General Manager, Jeff Ireland, the one who suggested Martin should punch Incognito (and for the record, he wasn’t the only person in NFL circles to make that suggestion) once asked potential draftee Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Their owner pursued Jim Harbaugh while he had Tony Sparano under contract, then, to ease feelings, he gave Sparano an extension and fired him not too long after. Their current coach, based on my having watched them on Hard Knocks last year, is wildly ineffectual. Their team’s leadership council includes Richie Incognito. Sometimes a place is just incompetent. Sometimes the higher ups don’t send a signal that general dickishness is not to be tolerated, or that it’s encouraged. It really doesn’t take that much to prevent this kind of stuff and it’s very weird and throws up all kinds of red flags that it did.
Literally everything that had to happen for this story to break happened
Reread all of those factors relating to Martin, the Dolphins, Incognito and understand that there’s a reason nothing like this had ever happened in pro football. So enjoy it while it lasts.
*Ratio of “education” to “guessing” is very, very low