After days of reports coming almost exclusively from anonymous sources linked to Jonathan Martin and the Dolphins front office, several current Miami Dolphins players have offered their take on the situation and put their names and reputations on the line, as covered previously by the Phinsider. Peter King's MMQB website has reported that Dolphins players were told not to answer questions about the matter, as part of the Dolphins' brilliant, "Maybe if we don't talk about it, people will forget and leave us alone" media strategy. All those Dolphins players disobeyed those orders because they were upset about media commentary suggesting that the team lacked leadership, players bullied each other, and Richie Incognito was a bully and bigot.
However, the focus of this article is a retired Dolphins player who therefore isn't subject to team rules but has a first-hand account of the dynamics of the O-line group last year and still has several friends who play on the O-line this year. Former offensive tackle Lydon Murtha wrote a must-read piece about the situation with several new insights. For those who are unfamiliar, Murtha was a former 7th round draft pick by the Detroit Lions after playing at the University of Nebraska who knew Incognito in college and was with the Miami Dolphins as a backup from 2009 until training camp ended in 2012 (Jon Martin's rookie year). A few key claims Murtha makes are -
1. Jonathan Martin was shy and avoided eye contact as a rookie, even as teammates tried to get him to open up and become part of the group. He was regularly invited to team get togethers/dinners and wasn't excluded by others.
2. Incognito took Martin under his wing from the start of Martin's career because players believed Martin would eventually be playing at left tackle next to Incognito - meaning they saw Martin being drafted as evidence the Dolphins wouldn't meet Jake Long's salary demands (which proved to be correct).
3. Incognito was known for pumping up Martin in practice when he did well and getting on him when his technique was poor. Murtha claims Incognito never said anything, good or bad, to Martin that he wouldn't say to any other O-linemen who was either doing well or struggling. However, Murtha admits Incognito wasn't always able to understand when a guy could put up with criticism versus when he wasn't able to deal with it, and that might have a contributing factor to this situation.
4. Importantly, Murtha clarified the alleged "extortion" of $15,000 from Jon Martin that has been reported previously. Previous reports said Martin was pressured into paying for a Las Vegas trip Martin himself did not attend. That sounds terrible, right?
According to Murtha, that report is accurate but incomplete. Martin had promised he would attend the trip, which was paid in advance. Martin then backed out at the last minute, not due to illness or family emergency, but because he no longer felt like going. The players who helped organize the trip, including Incognito, demanded Martin still pay his share because everything was pre-paid, and there were no refunds available.
Obviously, IF this version of the story is true, the Vegas trip being partially paid for by Martin no longer qualifies as an example of bullying - I've done the exact same thing to a very good friend of mine in a similar situation. It's not bullying to expect friends to keep their word. This could be an example of a story sounding much worse than it is in reality because of a key detail missing - in this case, Martin allegedly promising to go on the trip, which was pre-paid.
5. As others have reported, Murtha reiterated that the cafeteria "prank" of getting up and leaving as one guy comes to join the table has been a long-standing tradition of the O-linemen. Murtha himself has been the "victim," and Martin has participated in the prank before as one of the guys who gets up to leave.
6. Murtha then claims any reports (likely coming from the Dolphins front office) that no coaches were aware of any hazing activities are false. Coaches knew about everything that went on, either by witnessing it or hearing stories later.
So to recap what has been reported previously by the Phinsider, virtually all the players who have spoken out on this issue, including Cameron Wake, Mike Wallace, Tyson Clabo, have voiced their support of Incognito. In addition, Brian Hartline, in a great interview (video here) claimed that Martin and Incognito were good friends, and teammates already knew about Incognito's "threatening" and expletive-filled voicemail because Martin shared the voicemail with some teammates awhile ago and was laughing about it. Last, Ryan Tannehill (video can be found here) voiced support for Incognito as a good teammate. Tannehill notably went the furthest out of all the Dolphins players in saying that not only would he welcome Incognito back, but that he would welcome Martin back to the team as well because he believes in forgiveness.
(Cue jokes about Tannehill wanting both back in part because he fears for his health and wellbeing on gameday with multiple backups starting on the O-line)
To my knowledge, there are no players publicly backing the worst accusations against Incognito. There are two interpretations of that.
One is that if Incognito was really a menace to players and Dolphins team employees, you'd expect players to either call him out publicly or at least refuse to speak out on his behalf.
The other way to look at it is that it's possible that Incognito's popularity plus a culture of "don't air dirty laundry outside the locker room" has led those with legitimate complaints about Incognito to stay silent due to peer pressure.
In other words - the lack of support for Martin's claims could be a sign that those claims are unfounded, OR it could be a sign that Incognito did a good job in choosing a "victim" who didn't have many friends on the team who would support him in a tough situation like this. We'll likely have to wait for the independent report requested by owner Stephen Ross to be published to get real clarity on this matter.