Bullying Case' NFL Bully case: Dolphins suspend guard Richie Incognito for racial tweet and TMZ (Video) Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito spent most of the season side by side, a pair of 300-pound men made rich from football, crouched inches apart on the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins. When the defense took the field, they sat on the bench in order of their position — Martin, the left tackle, next to Incognito, the left guard. They were as connected as teammates could be — though they could hardly be more different. Now Martin and Incognito are gone from the team, at least temporarily, opposites embroiled in a twisted controversy over hazing and workplace abuse.
Martin, a classics major who attended Stanford and is the son of two Harvard graduates, left the Dolphins last week after an episode in the cafeteria in which teammates stood as Martin sat, the last in a string of perceived slights. Incognito, a 30-year-old veteran with a reputation for dirty play and a history of rough behavior, was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins late Sunday while the team and the league investigated the matter.
Their unfolding saga is forcing the National Football League to uncomfortably turn its gaze toward locker room culture and start defining the gray areas between good-natured pranks and hurtful bullying.
For years, young players in the N.F.L. have been subjected to a wide swath of indignities straight from the hallways of high school or the back rooms of fraternity houses. Young players are often expected to carry teammates' equipment off the field. They are sometimes forced to sing or otherwise entertain teammates on demand, left helplessly taped to goal posts or asked to regularly bring sandwiches or fast food to teammates.
They are often called names — Incognito referred to Martin, privately and publicly, as the Big Weirdo. In the glossy program sold at the Dolphins' Halloween night home game, after Martin left the team, Incognito called Martin the "easiest teammate to scare." ESPN and The Associated Press, among other outlets, citing unnamed sources, have reported that Incognito sent threatening and racist voice mail and text messages to Martin.
Many teams have a tradition of requiring rookies to pay the bill at an annual steakhouse dinner, with free-flowing liquor, where tabs run into the tens of thousands of dollars. One report Monday said Martin was pressured to pay $15,000 toward a trip to Las Vegas that he did not attend. In 2010, Dallas receiver Dez Bryant paid a $54,896 tab.
"Everything tastes better when rookies pay for it," Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick wrote in a Twitter message on Friday, accompanied by a photograph of a table of food, including bowls of shrimp and other seafood.
Most incidents come with the tacit, unsupervised approval of coaches and executives, who see the pranks as a rite of passage, a worthy bit of team building and character strengthening.
Last year, Martin and other Miami rookies were subjected to deliberately bad haircuts at the hands of veterans. Offensive lineman Josh Samuda had his eyebrows shaved and his hair shaved into a penis-shaped Mohawk.
"Glad we're such a first-class organization, Josh," Joe Philbin, then in his first year as head coach, said to a room full of laughing teammates, according to The Miami Herald.
But the hazing generally stays in the macho atmosphere of the locker room. The Dolphins' latest problems — symbolized by two behemoth millionaire teammates turned archetypical opposites — burst into the public in recent days, forcing the team to address the matter.