Richie Incognito, suspended by the Miami Dolphins amid an NFL investigation into harassment, was told by coaches to “toughen up” teammate Jonathan Martin but may have taken that order too far, a South Florida newspaper reported, citing multiple unnamed sources.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that Incognito was given the order after Martin skipped two days of a voluntary offseason team workout this past spring. Although the practices are voluntary, team leaders are often requested to coerce all players to participate, the paper said.
One source told the paper Incognito was encouraged to make a call to Martin that would “get him into the fold.”
A key piece of evidence in the league’s investigation will likely include an voice mail Incognito left for Martin in April, shortly after the voluntary offseason team activity, the Sun-Sentinel reported. According to several media outlets, in the profanity-laced voice message, Incognito calls Martin a “half n-----,” threatened to slap his mother across the face and uttered the words “I’ll kill you.”
The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Martin, a second-year tackle, is biracial. Incognito, a guard in his ninth NFL season, is white.
The Associated Press, citing two people familiar with the case, said Incognito’s harassment of Martin also included text messages that were racist and threatening.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said he was unaware of any harassment between the players until after Martin left the team last week due to emotional issues.
Incognito, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension by the team Sunday, was interviewed briefly by a reporter for WSVN-TV.
“I’m just trying to weather the storm right now,” Incognito said before getting into his car. “This will pass.”
The team practiced Tuesday for its game Monday night at Tampa Bay, but had no media availability.
The NFL Players Association said it will insist on a fair investigation for all involved in the Dolphins harassment case, including Incognito.
“As the representative organization of all players, the NFLPA will insist on a fair investigation for all involved,” the union said in a statement Tuesday that included no condemnation of Incognito’s conduct.
Instead, the union said accountability rested with the Dolphins.
“We expect that the NFL and its clubs create a safe and professional workplace for all players, and that owners, executives, coaches and players should set the best standards and examples,” the union said. “It is the duty of this union to hold the clubs ... accountable for safety and professionalism in the workplace. ... We will continue to remain in contact with the impacted players, their representatives and player leadership.”
No criminal investigation has been disclosed. Meanwhile, the NFL must decide whether the Dolphins failed to enforce the guidelines for workplace conduct included in the league’s player policy manual.
“All NFL players and prospective players have the right to work in a positive environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment, intimidation and discrimination,” the manual says. Every player receives a copy during training camp.
Martin, a Stanford graduate, is with his family in Los Angeles for counseling, and it’s unclear whether he’ll rejoin the team this season.
Also unclear is how other players would receive Martin after he complained about a teammate and abruptly left while Miami was mired in a four-game losing streak. The Dolphins shored up their depleted offensive line by signing David Arkin off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad.
“I hope that Martin doesn’t have any backlash from this from the rest of his teammates,” said Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby, who played for the Dolphins from 2010-12.
Dansby said he was puzzled that Martin’s teammates didn’t put a halt to any harassment.
“We’re like family. So why would we do something to hurt our family? I don’t understand it. Definitely you have to step in and say something. Unfortunately the guys didn’t step in down there. You got to have leaders step and up and control that kind of situation.”
The case leaves the 30-year-old Incognito’s career in doubt, and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Law said he could face criminal charges.
“This can be pursued as an extortion case,” Tamara Lave said. “It could also be pursued as making some kind of threat against the other player’s life. ... This particular cultural moment is one in which people are very upset about bullying and hazing. ... I think that prosecutors may think it’s important for them to do something. And the fact that you have a 300-pound man who feels so threatened and uncomfortable that he leaves, that’s an indication of how serious it was.”
Around the league, a handful of players had harsh words for Incognito, long considered one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. Some players defended the tradition of hazing, while others said it needs to change.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll supported the latter view.
“We don’t allow hazing here,” Carroll said. “In the past, yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s just an old-school way of thinking and a way of operating. We know better now.”
Garrett Gilkey, a rookie offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns, was bullied as a youth and is now an anti-bullying advocate.
“It’s one thing when you’re a little kid and you go to your parents back at home,” said Gilkey, who was forced to transfer in high school to escape harassment. “In the NFL, your familiarities are small and the likelihood of having family and friends near you and by you is very small, so being on your own essentially and having to constantly being scared or however you’re going to be hazed or ridiculed or made fun of, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how big you are, no one should have to go through that.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.