A week after Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin walked away from the team amid alleged threats and racially charged harassment from a fellow offensive lineman, the NFL is looking into whether the team played a role in allowing the bullying culture to flourish.
At the center of the controversy is guard Richie Incognito, who late Sunday was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins for conduct detrimental to the team.
Earlier Sunday, the Dolphins issued a statement that dismissed reports of bullying by Incognito as "speculation." Hours later, the team issued another release saying they "are taking these allegations very seriously." That was followed a few hours later by an announcement of Incognito's suspension.
On Monday, reports surfaced that the league had a copy of an obscenity-laced voice message to Martin from a man identified as Incognito, who called him by a racial epithet, threatened to "slap your real mother across the face," and said, "I will kill you." The contents of the message were later confirmed to The Times by an individual familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Martin reportedly received similar text messages from Incognito, who has a history of substance abuse and anger-management issues.
According to other reports, Incognito used Martin as a personal cash machine, demanding he contribute $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas that Martin did not attend. In another instance, veteran players reportedly spent $30,000 on a meal paid for by Dolphins rookies.
The alleged harassment of Martin carried into his second season. But the practice of rookies footing the bill for meals — albeit not as lavish — is a well-worn NFL tradition.
"When I was playing, the rookies were always responsible to bring doughnuts every Saturday, or provide the sunflower seeds," former Jacksonville tackle Tony Boselli said. "Then at the end of the year, we'd all go out to dinner and the rookies all had to split it. But it was all in fun.
"There are certain rookies you can be harder on and have more fun with, because they have thick skin and they just kind of rolled with it. And then there were other guys that you knew you had to stop it. We don't need to push this thing too far because it's obviously going to affect him differently. It's kind of the leader's job to do that.
"But the racial stuff? There's no place for that. No place at all."
At the request of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the NFL is conducting a review of the team's workplace environment. That raises questions about what the Dolphins knew about the situation, and how closely they monitored Incognito, 30, who is known for his dirty play on the field, yet, paradoxically, received the Good Guy award from the Miami chapter of the Pro Football Writers Assn. last season for making himself so accessible to reporters.
"If this review shows that this is not a safe atmosphere, I'll take whatever measures necessary to make sure that it is," Coach Joe Philbin said Monday.
Martin has been put on the team's non-football injury list, and his return is uncertain.
"Our main focus is to support Jonathan Martin, get him the help he needs, and get him back on the field," said his agent, Kenny Zuckerman. "As a father of two young kids, I definitely have more of the empathetic gene. Jonathan is just a big kid, and you don't want to see anyone go through that sort of pain. Jonathan loves football and he wants to play."
Martin, a second-round pick from Stanford in 2012, abruptly left the team at the beginning of last week after being pranked by teammates in the cafeteria. He met with Philbin that night, and the coach maintained contact with him and his family throughout the week.
"In all my discussions with Jonathan and members of his family, at no time were there any accusations or allegations of misconduct by any members of this team or this organization," Philbin said.
Philbin said the team was notified Sunday of those allegations, leading to Incognito's suspension.
The coach said he did not watch the HBO documentary series about training camp, "Hard Knocks," even though the Dolphins were the featured team in 2012. In one episode, Incognito taunts teammate Michael Egnew in the locker room, informing the then-rookie tight end that he figured out the security code on his iPad and posted a crude status update on Egnew's Facebook account. Incognito also makes disparaging remarks about Egnew's fiancee.
Martin, who went by the nickname "Moose" at Harvard-Westlake and Stanford, was a dedicated student with a serious personality whose parents attended law school at Harvard.
"All I know is, if it is a bullying situation, he would be the type of person who would take it personally and let it bother him," said Vic Eumont, former football coach at Harvard-Westlake. "He's a yes-sir, no-sir kind of kid. He never questioned coaches or teachers. It's a shame it has to happen to a family like that."
Stanford Coach David Shaw told reporters Monday that what Martin had been dealing with in Miami was "out of the ordinary."
"We're talking about something that, as more comes out, we're finding out this is not just Jon being oversensitive, this is Jonathan being the first person to speak out about what's been going on," Shaw said.
"And now it's like almost everyone's taking that opportunity now to speak out. Which once again points back to the fact that this isn't an isolated incident about Jonathan. This is apparently a difficult situation."