Locker-room bullying latest mess in troubled NFL year
Racial insults and threats revealed in the bullying controversy involving Miami Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin are the latest in a series of off-field issues that have nagged the NFL this season.
From settling lawsuits over long term head-trauma injuries with retired players to tighter concussion protection rules and concerns over stress on coaches after one suffered a mini-stroke and another needed heart surgery last week, the NFL was already facing issues this season.
But the latest concern came when Dolphins blocker Martin walked off the team after saying he was subjected to racial slurs and threats of violence against himself and his family by linemate neighbor Incognito.
Incognito was suspended indefinitely a week ago by the Dolphins, whose game Monday against Tampa Bay marked the team's first contest after a week of distractions and claims the team's locker room was out of control and leaderless.
Incognito told Fox Sports in an interview telecast Sunday that he regretted the language he used but also said that Martin had issued threats to him in an e-mail but that he never took them seriously.
"The racism, the bad words, that's what I regret most, but that's a product of the environment. That's something that we use all the time," Incognito said. "It sounds terrible. It sounds like I'm a racist pig. It sounds like a lot things that it's not.
"How we communicate, it's vulgar... when the words are put in the context, I can understand how a lot of eyebrows get raised."
ESPN reported that Martin would likely not return to the Dolphins this season and might not play for the team again because of the controversy, although he hopes to resume his NFL career at some point.
"All of this stuff coming out, it just speaks to the culture of our locker room, it speaks to the culture of our closeness, it speaks to the culture of our brotherhood," Incognito said. "This is an issue of my and Jon's relationship."
The NFL has launched an investigation into the workplace conduct in the Dolphins' organization, one that will go beyond the locker room in examining what events might have contributed to the situation.
Many Dolphins' players came to the support of Incognito once the controversy became a major issue, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo saying Martin "needs to stand up and be a man."
The Sun-Sentintel newspaper reported that Dolphins coaches asked Incognito to "toughen up" Martin after the newcomer missed a voluntary off-season workout six months ago -- a subject about which Incognito would not comment.
The Miami Herald said that teammates allowed Incognito to make inappropriate racial comments and saw Martin as out of touch for turning such comments into a bullying issue.
"I've taken stuff too far," Incognito said. "I did not intend to hurt him."
But Incognito also said Martin sent him an e-mail last month that said, "The worlds gone crazy lol. I'm good tho congrats on the win. 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."
Racial insult issues came into focus in July when Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper used a racial slur in a video made public just before the start of the team's training camp. Cooper scuffled with a teammate the following week but has helped the Eagles start 5-5 to share the NFC East division lead, catching 28 passes for 555 yards and seven touchdowns.
The fates of Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and team general manager Jeff Ireland might also hinge upon the final results of the NFL investigation.
But what will not wait is the fate of the Dolphins' season. At 4-4 midway into the campaign, Miami is fighting for a wildcard playoff spot but would need a strong finish to claim a post-season berth.