The past week has been an unusual one for the NFL's Miami Dolphins to say the least. Last Monday, starting offensive tackle Jonathan Martin went AWOL from the team after he was the target of what at the time was described as a "prank" in the team's cafeteria. One week later and we still don't know exactly what prompted him to storm out of the lunchroom, but a series of increasingly serious allegations that have emerged since suggest that whatever happened was simply the last straw for Martin, who appears to have been the target of prolonged bullying at the hands of one of his fellow starting lineman, Richie Incognito, a nine-year veteran and a member of the team's six-member leadership council.
On Sunday night, only hours after dismissing the initial bullying allegations as "speculation," the Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely for what they described as conduct detrimental to the team. Dolphins management says they will continue to investigate the allegations with the help of the NFL, although the fact that they were willing to lose their second starter in less than a week suggests they are far enough along in their investigation to have an idea of its conclusions. So how does a 6'3", 319-pound lineman bully his 6'5", 312-pound teammate? Apparently with voice mails that sound like this [via ESPN, which did the censoring]:
Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that the following is a transcript of a voice message Incognito left for Martin in April 2013, a year after Martin was drafted:
"Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you." ...
Sources familiar with the tapes say these are terms Incognito used over time and were not isolated incidents, including the use of the racial epithet multiple times. Sources also say Martin received a series of texts that include derogatory terms referring to the female anatomy and sexual orientation.
Allegations of hazing in the NFL are, of course, nothing new, but the addition of the apparent racial component in this case obviously raises the stakes for the image-conscious league. Complicating matters further for the NFL and the Dolphins is a related report this morning in the Miami Herald that suggests that Dolphin veterans basically use their younger teammates as ATMs to pay for their lavish lifestyles in Miami. According to the report, younger players were recently forced to pick up the tab for a $30,000 team dinner, among other unofficial team outings. For those rookies making the $400,000 league minimum, according to the report, that means some are living paycheck to paycheck. That report came on the heels of an earlier ESPN story that suggested that Incognito pressured Martin into ponying up $15,000 for an unofficial team trip to Las Vegas that he didn't even attend.
Incognito denied the initial allegations of bullying over the weekend. "Stop slandering my name," he told Adam Schefter, an ESPN reporter who's covering the story, via Twitter. "You hide behind 'sources' who are not man enough to put their name behind the BS you report." Despite his role as one of the team's leaders, however, Incognito has a reputation as one of the NFL's dirtiest players and something of a history of clashes with his own teammates on the practice field and in the locker room. He'll be a free agent at the end of this season.
Look for Slate's Josh Levin and Emily Bazelon to have more on the story later today. [Update, their take is live now; go check it out.]