DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — A leadership vacuum may have contributed to the troubled relationship between Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, which has left both players sidelined and the team in turmoil.
The ongoing saga has raised questions about whether coach Joe Philbin and his staff were negligent in allowing issues between Martin and Incognito to fester. Current and ex-players around the NFL say the situation reflects a lack of leadership because teammates of Martin and Incognito didn’t intervene.
NFL officials are trying to determine who knew what when, and whether Incognito harassed or bullied Martin. A second-year tackle from Stanford, Martin left the team last week and is with his family in California to undergo counseling for emotional issues. Incognito has been suspended indefinitely.
A senior partner in a New York law firm with experience in sports cases was appointed Wednesday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate possible misconduct in the Dolphins’ workplace and prepare a report that will be made public.
The team built by Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland has undergone heavy roster turnover after losing records each of the past four years. Of the 53 players on the squad, 20 are new to Miami this season.
“That’s the one thing I’ve heard from every single former player … there’s a lack of leadership,” said Jimmy Cefalo, a former Dolphins receiver and now their play-by-play announcer. “They might step in with Richie and say, ‘Look, this has got to change.’”
The Dolphins’ oldest player, 34-year-old John Denney, is a long snapper who sees little action. The second-oldest, 34-year-old Bryant McKinnie, has been with the team less than three weeks. The third-oldest, 31-year-old Tyson Clabo, joined the Dolphins this year.
In 2012 the team’s player leadership council included Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Jake Long, all of whom left after last season. Their replacements were second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, newcomer Dannell Ellerbe — and Incognito.
Incognito’s harassment of Martin included text messages that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation have told The Associated Press. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the Dolphins and NFL haven’t disclosed the nature of the misconduct that led to Incognito’s suspension.
An assertive veteran might have prevented any problems from escalating, said former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson, now an analyst with NFL Network.
“In every locker room there are jerks; we all have them,” Tomlinson said. “But at the same time, there are always guys that can go and talk to that jerk and say, ‘You’re going overboard.’ My problem is Miami doesn’t have that guy. …
“If you’re a player in that locker room, there has to be someone there to be able to step up and help that guy. You know the personnel of the guys in your locker room a lot of times — the leaders do — and if a guy can’t defend himself and isn’t capable of standing up for himself, it is up to the guys in that locker room to say, ‘Hey man, let’s not go there’ or ‘You’re going too far.’”
New York attorney Ted Wells was chosen by the NFL to investigate. He has conducted special investigations into the Syracuse basketball sexual harassment case, and the NBA players union leadership dispute. In the latter case, his report led to a change in the head of the union.