|Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is under increasing pressure|
When Jonathan Martin stormed out of the Miami Dolphins team cafeteria after his teammates pulled another practical joke on him, a much larger and more sinister situation revealed itself. Centering around Martin and his fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito, Martin accused Incognito of threatening not just him but also members of his family in addition to using racial slurs in a since disclosed voice-mail message. However Incognito has since defended his role in the incident, accusing Martin of making similar remarks himself in jest and that his comments, particularly the death threats, had been taken out of context. While Incognito has admitted he shouldn’t have used the N word many Miami players including quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Brian Hartline have defended him publicly in recent days.
What you can probably gather from those facts is that the situation is anything but clear. The team suspended Incognito nine days ago and have until December 2 to decide whether to reinstate or release him, but it would seem extremely unlikely that they could do the former without clearing his name. Doing that would involve essentially dismissing Martin’s accusations; something which is impossible to do based on the evidence presented in the case thus far. Perhaps the most disturbing element of the story is the rumour that Dolphins coaches asked Incognito to try and toughen Martin up, as reported in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. If true then second year coach Joe Philbin could find his days as head coach in Miami numbered, with comparisons to the “Bounty gate” scandal in New Orleans justified. However while Sean Peyton was suspended for a season his track record, primarily a Superbowl win, granted him enough goodwill within the Saints organisation to return upon the conclusion of his one year suspension. In contrast Philbin has done little to inspire confidence in his coaching ability during his two years at the helm and after an off-season free agent spending spree a 4-5 record won’t be enough to appease the Miami faithful.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross broke his silence on the topic yesterday before Miami’s loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, acknowledging that “there’s been so much said and done to date that I don’t think anybody really knows what has happened because no one has really spoken with Jonathan Martin directly”. Ross also revealed that he had commissioned the creation of the ‘Miami Dolphins committee’, consisting of former players including Curtis Martin and Jason Taylor and ex-NFL coaches Don Shula and Tony Dungy.
Because no one has been in contact with Martin his side of the story remains untold, which combined with the support from his teammates for Incognito makes it important that he speaks out soon. One thing that is clear is that the mood within that locker room, rightly or wrongly, is that Incognito would be welcomed back with open arms. Martin has been portrayed as an outsider who made little to no effort to fit in with his colleagues, in the process isolating himself and presenting the opportunity for jokes or ‘hazing’ from his teammates to be misconstrued by both parties. With Philbin’s seat getting increasingly warm and Ross trying desperately to limit the damage caused to the reputation of his franchise it hasn’t just been the players involved in the saga who have been effected. But affected they have been, and not in a positive way. Last nights loss to Tampa Bay was an early indication that the situation has infiltrated the psyche of every player on the roster, with Martin and Incognito conspicuous in their absence. Stephen Ross’s statement yesterday looked to be a step in the right direction, but it’s actions and not words which will help Ross and the franchise turn the situation around and stop the metaphorical bleeding.