Is Jonathan Martin too emotionally soft or is Richie Incognito too psychologically harsh?
Miami coach Joe Philbin has shown which way he’s leaning on this national debate by suspending Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. All the same, he’s stuck in the middle and, by all appearances, floundering to figure out how two of his players could grow so sick of each other that an NFL investigation is needed to clear the Dolphins’ locker room of bullying.
I don’t think Philbin will lose his job over this mess, providing, of course, he starts winning games. If he doesn’t, that’s when the inability of the second-year coach and his assistants to read signals, or even read minds, will shoot conveniently to the top of any list of potential firing offenses.
Logically, the staffer who should be in the most jeopardy at this stage of the guessing game is offensive line coach Jim Turner. He’s the one who spends every working hour with Martin and Incognito and the rest of Miami’s earth-moving crew. If there really was a tornado of tension in the meeting room every time they all got together, Turner would have to be in a trance to miss it.
As for Philbin, the head coach insisted Monday that Martin never complained to him about any mistreatment, even when there was a perfect opportunity to do so. That came just a few hours after Martin walked away from the team over an incident in the Dolphins’ dining room.
“I contacted Jonathan personally and requested a meeting with him, which he readily accepted,” Philbin said. “I met with him later that evening. We had a good discussion.
“In all my discussions with Jonathan and members of his family, at no time were than any accusations or allegations of misconduct by any members of this team or of this organization.”
All of that sad and sick information came pouring out days later. Martin’s representatives called Philbin on Sunday to accuse Incognito of multiple threatening contacts over a long period of time and provided as proof a voice mail burning with racially-charged anger. It’s impossible to take Incognito’s protests about unfair treatment seriously when there’s a soundtrack like that playing.
Cracking this case, however, is really about cracking the code of the NFL locker room. Swarming through the Dolphins’ workplace on Monday afternoon were close to 100 reporters and cameramen in search of a negative comment on Incognito, or even a conflicted one. Instead he was described as a funny guy, a hard worker, a friend.
“I could never tell you if Richie was serious,” said rookie tight end Dion Sims, who came the closest to admitting that he might not really have known Incognito as well as he thought. “He jokes a lot.”
For Martin, it seems, Incognito was no clown, and investigators may yet discover that other players crossed the line from hazing to harassment. If so, that would help explain why all this took so long to come to a head. Incognito was a member of the team’s leadership council, after all. Who was Martin supposed to tell, keeping in mind that Incognito was one of the best players on a weakened offensive line?
The obvious answer is Philbin. LeRoy Butler, who played at Green Bay for both Philbin and Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, said that Martin could have expected compassion and action if he had summoned the boldness to go to the boss.
“I’m very disappointed and emotionally saddened by this whole thing,” Butler said. “People I know personally are involved in this and I’m really ticked off. Mike Sherman, Joe Philbin, they teach a ton of leadership. That’s all they do, try to get out in front of stuff and teach players to try to love one another.”
Now the teaching will come from the NFL, with a probable ban on the traditional hazing of rookies and other newcomers. Incognito will become an outcast, at least for a while, and could face prosecution if Martin wants to strike back, finally, through the criminal-justice system. My guess is that he won’t, and that Martin will return to the Dolphins in a month or so, still wishing the whole thing would just go away.
Too late for all that, even if Incognito alone takes the fall here.
When a 6-foot-5, 312-man feels bullied, everything about this game and this team comes under question.