What a rough week to be a Miami Dolphins fan.
Not that it hasn’t been for the past decade and a half, but this week has been especially trying thanks to the ongoing “bullying” fiasco that has garnered national, even global, media attention.
Few outside of the Miami Dolphins’ fan-sphere had ever heard the name Jonathan Martin prior to the Dolphins’ Halloween night match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, he’s the focal point of a complicated NFL investigation at the center of one of the most polarizing debates in professional sports history.
What we know:
- Martin left the team on October 28th following a lunch room prank in which teammates invited Martin to sit with them and then simultaneously got up and moved to another table
- Martin did not return to the team and missed the October 31st game against the Bengals. He was placed on the NFI (non-football injury) list by the team
- November 2nd, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that Dolphins Guard Richie Incognito was under review by the NFLPA for allegedly harassing Martin
- Incognito blew up on Twitter, calling out Schefter directly and demanding his name be cleared (The Tweets have since been deleted)
- The following transcript of a voicemail Incognito left for Martin in April 2013 was leaked to the public on November 3rd:
“Hey, wassup, you half-n—-r piece of (expletive). I saw you on twitter, you been training ten weeks. Want to (expletive) in your (expletive) mouth. I’m going to slap your (expletive) mouth. Going to slap your real mother across the face. (laughter). You’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
- Incognito was suspended indefinitely by Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin
- Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross contacted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to request a review of the workplace
- Martin checked himself into a hospital to receive treatment for emotional distress related to the alleged harassment
- The Dolphins arranged to fly Martin’s parents from California to Florida to visit Jonathan in the hospital. Martin and his family have since returned to California where they remain
- Commissioner Goodell appointed attorney Ted Wells to lead the investigation into the Dolphins’ workplace environment
- Dolphins players spoke out on November 6th, heavily favoring the still-suspended Incognito
Those are the facts. What’s important to understand about this story is that it’s been largely driven by speculation. In the coming days, more details will be uncovered and I’m sure it’s only going to get uglier, but for now, this is what we know. Due to the evolution of social media and society’s need-it-now mentality, opinion and analysis-based reporting has arguably become the preferred news delivery wagon over the fact-only variety.
So now we have the transcript of a voicemail, with no context. We can probably agree that Incognito’s use of the n-word was inappropriate, but beyond that, this voicemail is far from damning. Much to the chagrin of soccer mom’s everywhere, your son has likely left and/or received a message exactly like this one from one of his friends or teammates. Labeling Incognito a racist is the easy way out. Analysts are prone to taking Martin’s side because it’s the politically correct thing to do.
To me, this is scary stuff. I’ve been glued to SportsCenter all week, watching in disbelief as these experts — many of whom lack the credibility to speak about the inner workings of an NFL locker room — stomp their pitchforks and call for the heads of various Dolphins players and executives, all before the league’s commissioned investigation even had a front man.
I’ve heard former coaches and players suggesting a lack of leadership in the locker room. “Why didn’t anyone stop this?” “How did the head coach not know this was going on? This never would’ve happened if I was on that team.” Analysts insisting the team is in “shambles,” and “terminally dysfunctional.” Headline after headline reads “SOURCE CLAIMS X, Y and Z,” and people seem to swallow it up like gospel, without ever knowing the source. One headline on a popular NFL blog reads, “DOLPHINS HIT ROCK BOTTOM, KEEP DIGGING.”
Meanwhile, over at the Dolphins.com media center (http://www.miamidolphins.com/multimedia/videos/channel/), players on the team and in the locker room paint a very different picture. Surely they’ve been advised by the team’s PR staff and fed directions as to how to handle certain questions, but it appears to me that most of them are speaking openly and honestly about the issue.
“If I’m not mistaken, this was the same guy (Martin) who was laughing about the voicemail at one point in time. I just remember I thought (the voicemail) was being passed around as a joke.”
- Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline
“If you asked Jonathan Martin who his best friend is on this team two weeks ago, he’d say Richie Incognito. (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.”
- Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Several teammates have indicated Martin has been on both sides of the lunchroom prank that became this story’s kickstarter. One player, an eye-witness to a fight that broke out in practice a few weeks ago between rookie Dion Jordan and Martin, said that the instant the fight broke out, the first person to come to Martin’s aid was Richie Incognito.
I’ve seen all the interviews and I don’t get the impression that this is a locker room in shambles, lacking leadership. I see a team baffled and confused by an unfortunate situation, but united and focused nonetheless.
Controversy generates traffic and today’s media depends on traffic to survive. I get that. Still, the facts aren’t adding up here and it’s quite possible they never will. Sadly, we’ve allowed this story to mushroom to a point where neither player’s career in the NFL may be salvageable. I’m optimistic that won’t be the case, but this story is a runaway train destined for catastrophe.
I don’t support Richie Incognito in this mess, nor do I fault him. Based on what we know, only one thing is certain: We don’t know enough to cast judgement. That’s not the sexy approach, but it’s the right one.
I’m going to continue to watch this saga unfold and do my best to filter speculation in search of the truth. There’s a really good chance I’ll end up let down by the end result, but I remain hopeful that Jonathan Martin gets the help he needs and that the guys in that locker room come together in the face of adversity and prove to the world that the only thing that’s hit rock bottom here are the ethics of those reporters who called this one too early.