One thing I’ve learned in
life is that the truth between two differing points of view is generally
somewhere in between.
This belief seems to be
playing out before our eyes in the case of the Incognito-Martin affair.
Sun Sentinel columnist
Dave Hyde called this unpleasant business “the ugliest chapter in Dolphins
“Even in their last
decade of high embarrassment”, Hyde wrote, “the Dolphins never have been part
of a story this embarrassing”.
Succinct, and on point.
There are many, many
questions that people inside and outside the organization have about this
situation, a situation that threatens to not only carry away the 2013 season
but the current regime with it. It will take time to sort everything out, to
find what happened, to determine who knew what, when they did know it, and finally
to make the needful corrections.
Just be careful about jumping
to conclusions prematurely, as the entire Dolphins roster just reminded us by affirming
strong support for the much maligned Richie Incognito, leaving the ever
righteous media confused and foolish in their rush to judgment.
So let’s all take a
breath here and try to sort out things as best we can.
Let’s begin with head
coach Joe Philbin. Give him credit for stepping up and accepting ownership of
this issue. The buck stops with him while, once again, GM Jeff Ireland hides in
the shadows. Never forget that Ireland is the one who picked up these two
players (and their respective baggage) and brought them to South Florida. But
it doesn’t stop there as Ireland has now been accused of telling Martin’s reps that
Martin should go and punch out Incognito. Then, for good measure, former
Dolphins QB Sage Rosenfels tweets out what a terrible GM he is, underscoring
his point with a “#jerk” hashtag.
Talk about piling on! But
he’s not the only one as many former players and coaches are now weighing on
what has become a case study on the NFL locker room, probably team sports in
general, and the media’s ability to get the story right.
It will be up to the NFL,
under Senior Vice President of Labor Law and Policy Adolpho Birch and special
advisor Ted Wells, to shine light on where the mistakes were made. And then it
will be up to owner Stephen Ross, the man who asked the NFL to investigate, to determine
what corrective measures will be undertaken.
When it’s all said and
done, Philbin, Ireland, their staffs, and even Executive Vice President for
Football Operations Dawn Aponte could find their positions in serious jeopardy.
This, you see, is an institutional matter and Ross’s actions reveal that he
doesn’t know who to blame for this train wreck.
Or who to trust.
Again, beware of rumors
and the “sources” that start them. Most of what we are hearing is either
speculative or downright false.
There’s no question that
Richie Incognito sent a highly inappropriate and unprofessional voice mail to
Jonathan Martin seven months ago, a voice mail Martin allegedly replayed in the
locker room and laughed about but now claims as bullying. We know that an
oft-repeated prank was played on Martin in the Dolphin team cafeteria, a prank
that he himself had played on others. Was it that very prank that sent Martin
over the edge and out of the building? Or, was it something much deeper?
Martin’s reaction caught
the Dolphins off guard. For those who have had the privilege of being in an NFL
locker room, whether as a player or as a coach, equipment manager, or trainer,
they know there is a code of conduct that is a sacred trust. Martin clearly violated
that trust when he went public with his concerns, versus handling them “in
house”. This is why I believe he is unlikely to ever wear a Dolphins uniform
again and may never be fully accepted in another team’s locker room. His pro
career may very well be over.
The real mystery here,
however, is Incognito. Again, players assert he is being made a scapegoat,
unfairly labeled a racist and a bigot. It has been reported that Incognito is
unlikely to return to the team, which may or may not be true; it is up to the
NFL to determine his culpability. But one thing is very clear: there can be no
justification for his use of such offensive language, even as a joke. What he
said to Martin, even in jest, is neither acceptable nor representative of what
a Miami Dolphin should be.
That being said, in the
times I have interviewed him, twice last year alone, he came across as a man
who had gained self-awareness of his troubled past and had worked very hard
over the past four years to re-make himself. That effort was rewarded last
season with a Pro Bowl berth, and recognition from the local media for being
accessible and professional.
“I think consistency is
the key”, Incognito told me last year, in response to a question I asked him
about his transformation as a player and getting to the next level in his
career. “That’s been my tag line or credo in moving forward and making the
transformation from St Louis to (Miami). (It’s) showing up and being a
professional every day, showing up in the weight room, showing up on the
practice field, showing up on Sundays.”
This is the Incognito we
had become accustomed to in South Florida these past four seasons, the guy we
wanted on our side, in the trenches, and why we are shocked to see this whole
unfortunate business come to pass.
So who to blame? I
believe the root of the whole problem is a lack of leadership, amongst the
coaches and personnel people. How could Philbin and Ireland not have a sense of
the trouble brewing with Martin? And, if they did, why didn’t they act?
Rest assured, we will get to
the truth in due course. It is a good thing the NFL is handling the
investigation, a smart move by Ross. Yet there is also a danger than things
could get worse the deeper they dig, the more people that come forward to talk,
and the more outside organizations try to gain from this unfortunate situation.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have
eight more games to play and a playoff run to make, if they can. Can they wade
through this tide of distraction and take care of the real business at hand,
which is winning six of the next eight football games?
Hyde, for one, thinks this
situation has made the Dolphin locker room more united than ever. He predicts a
solid Dolphin win over the hapless Bucs. This may indeed come to pass, as could
a happy ending to the season on the field. But the reputation of the Dolphins
organization, Incognito, and Martin are already losers in the swill of this