Nations: Martin saga is ugly look for NFL

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin have this much in common, at least — neither of the hulking offensive linemen will likely be suiting up for the Miami Dolphins in next Monday night’s NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Whether either or both will ever play for the Dolphins again remains to be seen, but the reason for that appears as divergent as these two estranged teammates have become over the course of the season.

Martin, a second-year offensive tackle with a reputation as a soft-spoken introvert, abruptly left the Dolphins on Oct. 28 reportedly to seek help for some unspecified emotional issues. Soon enough, widespread speculation pinned Martin’s sudden departure on harassment and threats from teammates.

That’s a difficult scenario for most of us — the non-NFL lineman sized majority, at least — to comprehend. Martin is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 312 pounds. Who in their right mind would threaten this guy?

One player — Incognito — has been revealed so far as an alleged chief tormentor. And no, Incognito certainly doesn’t seem to be in his right mind — at all. Transcripts of Incognito’s racial slurs and vile threats to Martin on voice mail and via text messaging paint the picture of a seriously unstable individual. Little wonder that the Dolphins suspended the veteran offensive guard indefinitely this week. Incognito has long been known as a dirty, nasty player on the field. It seems that attitude has extended to the locker room, as well.

It really shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. Hazing is just a catch-all term for all types of bullying, humiliation and intimidation practiced for decades on many sports teams across the country. Younger players are subjected to all manner of degradations and expected to behave in a submissive role to the “veteran” players on the team — those who elect to participate in the hazing, which isn’t universal by any means. Often, it’s a small core of older players who delight in the power granted in these unwritten rites of passage.

The level and intensity of hazing varies greatly, which is a large part of the problem. With unwritten rules, there is a tendency to lose sight of just where the line is with this sort of behavior. Playful teasing and menial tasks are one thing — physical violence and emotional abuse are quite another. Proponents of hazing, such as there are, point out the positive team-building camaraderie these activities can promote. I’ve never agreed with or understood that point of view, to be honest — how is demeaning and belittling your teammates, or worse, beneficial to team harmony?

Martin, who has yet to speak on the issue and has made no accusations that the alleged threats, insults and outright extortion were the reasons he left the team, nevertheless has taken a positive step by effectively saying, ‘Enough is enough.” Multiple media outlets have reported that bullying was indeed a factor, and Incognito’s leaked correspondence certainly lends credence to that.

There is an element, within the NFL and across the fan base, which want to blame this issue on Martin’s passivity. Be a man, stick up for yourself, with fists if necessary — that’s the mantra. Martin didn’t do that, and shouldn’t have to do that — playing professional football is a job, and as with any job clear standards of behavior should be spelled out by the employer. The Dolphins, through ignorance or willful neglect, seem to have failed in this regard to provide a tolerable — safe, even — work environment for at least one of their players.

Suspending Incognito is a start; if the allegations are true, releasing him for good should be the next step, and with the reputation he’s built as an unstable, possibly deranged individual, he should be hard-pressed to find a job anywhere. This type of sociopathic behavior would and should be a firing offense in any workplace, and the same should hold for an NFL team. Martin did the grown-up thing by not brawling — Incognito and any other Dolphins guilty of intimidation and extortion should be exposed as the worst sort of children they apparently have been allowed to become in Miami.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>