If the Miami Dolphins told offensive guard Richie Incognito to help teammate and fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin toughen up, those coaches should be fired immediately.
That's the only logical option if the report by Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is true. Kelly writes that, according to Dolphins sources, coaches had asked Incognito to "toughen Martin up" after Martin had missed a voluntary workout.
Specifically, according to Kelly, the voicemails left on Martin's cellphone featuring racist language and threats against both Martin and his family were encouraged by coaches:
Sources say that communication took place when Martin skipped two days of the team's OTA program, and Incognito was encouraged by his coaches to make a call that would "get him into the fold," one source said.
Even though OTA workouts are voluntary, the NFL culture forces coaches to strong arm the team's leaders to make sure everyone attends. Sources say Incognito was doing his job, but they admit he crossed the line.
It brings to mind the Aaron Sorkin classic A Few Good Men where Colonel Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) delivered one of the greatest monologues in movie history, culminating in the famous line: "You can't handle the truth!" The speech was in response to a question of whether or not he ordered a "Code Red" on a soldier in order to toughen him up.
It might just be Hollywood, but Colonel Jessup was arrested at the end of that movie.
If any Dolphins coaches gave out a similar "toughen him up" order to Incognito, fire those coaches now, and terminate head coach Joe Philbin for not running a tighter ship where this nonsense was allowed to go on. Fire them now. Don't fire them because the Dolphins win or lose games, or because Philbin is supposedly an offensive guru and the offense is inept.
Fire everyone—from top to bottom—that had anything to do with this situation for gross incompetence on such a large scale, that it's thrust the Dolphins ahead of the winless Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the title of most-laughable team in Florida.
When Philbin, who is supposedly against hazing, says that he had no idea a hazing incident had occurred (when the same incident was broadcast to millions on TV) because he doesn't "watch Hard Knocks," it's time to clean house.
While researching this column, I spoke with two former personnel men in the NFL and one former coach. All of them agreed that it's not a player's job to toughen up a teammate. If coaches can't handle something like that, they shouldn't be coaches.
"Especially when it's a player who has a history of being a jerk!" said Tom Bass, who serves as an advisor for USA Football.
Bass, who coached under legends like Don Coryell, Sid Gillman, Paul Brown and John McKay, is a legend himself in the coaching community and said about the Incognito situation: "I don't think it's normal. In my 20-plus years, I've never heard or seen anything like that...It’s beyond me that you’d ask players to do that for you."
Bass continued with some examples of initiations or hazing from his coaching career:
"I’ve been with clubs where the rookies brought in donuts. Nobody seemed to care. The Chargers had an idea that the first-round pick always went out with the veterans and the veterans stiffed him with the bill. It didn’t seem to hurt anybody."
Incognito—either on his own or at the specific request of the Dolphins coaching staff—crossed a line.
Former Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson agrees that this isn't a normal occurrence, telling me: "I've heard conversations like that," where coaches have asked players to police their colleagues better, but also pointing out that it never happened to this extent.
"Particularly when you talk about being 'in the trenches.' [Linemen] have that mentality when you’re trying to set the tone...But this is where my shock comes from…he left [Stanford] early and he was a second-round pick! He started most of his games in Miami. Clearly, he has an immense amount of talent!"
Anderson would go on to repeatedly call the situation "weird." Coach Bass echoed that exact sentiment repeatedly with an exasperated "Wow."
Ted Sundquist literally wrote a book on leadership and team-building. He's not only an expert on NFL matters (having worked for the Denver Broncos front office from 1993-2008, the last six years as general manager), but also knows a thing or two about fraternity, brotherhood and heading into battle after graduating from the Air Force Academy and then serving as football coach at Air Force from 1988-1992.
Sundquist told me that there "were concerns" about Incognito in the Broncos war room and that he was taken completely off the board for character issues—"He just rubbed everyone the wrong way." He also felt that the manner in which Incognito was asked to toughen Martin up was unusual, saying:
"I think there have been players that have come in where the coaches felt they needed to toughen up their personality—play more physical or more mentally tough. As far as passing that on to another player in the manner he did, no. For them to verbally berate a teammate or anything else: One, I don’t think there’s a place for that, and two, I can’t remember ever being a situation where that happened."
Another former front office executive, speaking on the condition on anonymity, said that he could imagine a coach taking Incognito aside, "and Richie taking it to the nth degree." He also had some choice off-the-record words to say about Incognito's personality, but let's just say he's not a fan.
On Martin, however, the executive was perplexed at the idea that he's not tough, pointing to his play at Stanford: "I don’t think he’s all that soft. He might have a soft exterior or personality, but he doesn't play soft."
"It’s hard for me to imagine that a player the caliber of Jonathan Martin is not tough in some aspect. It might not be outwardly noticed, but it takes a pretty tough individual to make it this far."
Maybe the idea that Martin wasn't tough emanated from the possibility that he didn't like (or wasn't as dependent on) football as much as someone like Incognito. As a Stanford-educated man with two highly successful parents, it's possible that Martin viewed the NFL as more of a stepping stone than the be-all/end-all of his life's work. Anderson explains:
"I know when I got into the NFL...I don’t always think like other people. I had other goals. I loved playing football, but I also knew that football could be a fantastic vehicle for me to pursue those other goals. There are some guys, this is it."
Coaches want that second type of guy, though. I remember vividly being told by scouts that former NFL safety Myron Rolle was soft because he risked missing a game in order to take an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship, whicup receiving he ended . Rolle then took the scholarship and a year at Oxford University, delaying his NFL dreams for a year.
When I played football at Florida State University, my mostly Florida-based teammates joked on my New Jersey upbringing, my boarding school experience, my glasses, my proper speech, my tucked in shirt and my abhorrent dislike for sweet tea and country fried steak. But the ribbing stopped there. Basic human respect existed in our locker room, seniors drew a line, I refused to have my self-worth depreciated and our singular goal of winning on Saturdays trumped by any momentary pleasure one received from hazing another player.
When I got drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the same locker room experience I had in college unfolded in my professional career. If Jonathan Martin had been fortunate enough to have a similar team culture to what I experienced, he would be preparing for his game this Sunday.
Strong take from a strong man.
Rolle doesn't lack toughness, but neither does Martin. People who think that—including Dolphins coaches—have no idea what toughness means. They have an antiquated notion of manliness that is couched in years of he-man/woman-hating stereotypes that many in our culture have left behind.
Football may have once been something that finitely resembled warfare or hard-nosed battles, but now football is a multi-billion dollar business. "Is that how Microsoft works?" Sundquist asked.
Instead, Bass explains, it's the smart guys like Martin and Rolle who coaches should be looking for:
"I had some of the smartest kids I’ve ever been around play for me. The Selmon brothers (Lee Roy and Dewey) were outstanding—very intelligent. I had one linebacker play for me who scored 48/50 on the Wonderlic. [Intellect] may have entered into it in Incognito’s mindset, but not the coach’s. You look for smart guys!"
Bass added, "It bothers me. If the coaches were in on this, it’s a real story."
In the NFL Personal Conduct Policy, there are specific prohibitions against criminal activity, violent and threatening behavior as well as any "Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players."
Incognito is clearly at fault for all of the above. If Dolphins coaches encouraged, insisted, allowed or engendered any of those infractions, they are equally liable to the penalties outlined in the conduct policy which: "may take the form of fines, suspension, or banishment from the league."
There's no room for what Incognito did in the game of football, and there's certainly even less room for organizations encouraging that behavior.
"I sure am glad I'm not coaching him," Bass said of Incognito, "I don't think we'd have lasted very long."
If the Dolphins coaches encouraged Incognito's bullying and harassment, they shouldn't last very long either. They should be fired immediately.