DAVIE, Fla. — The basic role that Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito shared as offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins was protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The roles are now reversed.
Tannehill is defending both Martin and Incognito, the central characters in a bullying saga that has taken both offensive linemen off the field and continued to evolve Wednesday when the NFL appointed a lawyer to investigate possible misconduct within the team workplace.
Shortly afterward, many Dolphins spoke out about the matter for the first time — and with at least one questioning Martin’s motives.
“I don’t know why he’s doing this,” offensive lineman Tyson Clabo said. “And the only person who knows why, his name is Jonathan Martin.”
Two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Martin considered quitting football in the past, with one of those people saying it was because of how other offensive linemen treated him.
Incognito is suspended. Martin left the Dolphins last week after a lunchroom prank, and he remains excused.
“If you had asked Jon Martin a week before who his best friend on the team was, he would have said Richie Incognito,” Tannehill said, on another day when dozens of reporters descended on the team complex. “The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan.”
The prank was a silly one — when Martin sat down to eat, everyone else at the table stood up and walked away. It’s apparently a go-to comedic ploy for the Dolphins; Tannehill and offensive lineman John Jerry both said they’ve been targets of that very act in the past, and that it’s typically just laughed off.
Not this time. Martin left the team on Oct. 28 after it happened. The story has continued spiraling ever since, with questions about not only whether bullying was tolerated, but if Incognito used racially charged terms against his teammate in phone and text messages. Incognito is white. Martin is biracial.
“What’s perceived is that he was a racist, psychopath maniac,” Clabo said, defending Incognito. “The reality is Richie was a good teammate, and that Richie and Jonathan Martin were friends, or appeared to be.”
Added Jerry, who is black, speaking about Incognito’s alleged use of a racial slur: “I know the type of person he is and I know he don’t mean it that way.”
How everything inside the Dolphins locker room is meant will now be probed by New York attorney Ted Wells, the NFL’s choice to dig into the matter. Wells has experience with high-profile sports matters, having been involved with special investigations into the Syracuse basketball sexual harassment case and the NBA players union leadership dispute.
“The type of culture that I’ve championed since the day I’ve walked through these doors has been one of honesty, respect and accountability to one another,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “I consider those to be hallmarks of this program, and I believe our locker room reflects those beliefs. I believe in the men in our locker room, and I believe in our coaching staff.”
Inside that locker room, players defended both themselves and Philbin.
“What’s been bothering me is kind of things that you hear from outside this locker room about things that maybe undermine the integrity or the leadership or the type of players and the class of guys that we have here and the class of this organization,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “I’ve been here five years and coach Philbin has done nothing but turn this organization in a positive direction from top to bottom.”
Clabo said there’s a way the offensive linemen treat one another, that no one is exempt from the ribbing and that it’s done to keep the mood light in the room.
“You have to earn the trust of your teammates in this league,” Clabo said. “No one is going to walk in the door and just automatically be somebody that you want to go into a game with and believe and trust and know that that person’s going to be there when he’s supposed to be there. Those things have to be earned.”