According to Charlie Gasparino of FoxNews.com, Incognito has hired public relations firm Sitrick & Co. in an effort to prove that he did not bully offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.
Incognito became public enemy No. 1 in the NFL this past season after Martin, a second-year fellow offensive lineman, left the team on Oct. 28 to deal with emotional issues. Reports then surfaced that Incognito was the root of the problem, and he was subsequently suspended on Nov. 3 for the rest of the season, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
It's official - Richie Incognito has agreed to remain on suspended list with pay the remainder of the season.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 16, 2013
Incognito was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. The NFL is still investigating the situation and is expected to rule sometime after the Super Bowl.
Over the past several weeks, however, Martin's own role in the situation has come into question. Per Gasparino, Incognito's lawyers maintain that Incognito and Martin were friends who engaged in playful banter rather than bullying.
Incognito's attorney, Mark Schamel, admitted that some of the language used by Incognito in reference to Martin was in poor taste, but he also offered examples of Martin dishing out insults as well, according to Gasparino (quotes contain sexually graphic language):
The coarse and unacceptable comments and text messages that were sent to Jonathan Martin were of the same poor taste as those sent by him. All of these communications were provided to Ted Wells and the NFL investigation. What they show is banter between friends, not bullying. Jonathan Martin sent text messages to Richie Incognito which included threats to send someone over to Richie Incognito's home with a 'tranquilizer gun and sandpaper condoms' to homosexually rape him. Jonathan Martin sent another that said he would 'kill (Richie's) whole family.' There was another where Jonathan Martin indicated he would ejaculate in Richie's face.
To further support Incognito's claim that he and Martin were on good terms, Fox Sports obtained a text from Martin to Incognito that was sent three days after Martin initially left the team:
Jonathan Martin's text to Richie Incognito: pic.twitter.com/Hjk86XshxJ— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 10, 2013
According to Gasparino, Schamel believes that Martin's professional struggles caused him to leave the team, and that Martin used the bullying allegations as an excuse for his actions.
Jonathan Martin also raised concerns with Richie Incognito that he was not playing well, about how upset he was at being ranked by Pro Football Focus as among the worst lineman in the NFL, about his poor performance on the field, his demotion to right tackle and how he was concerned about what the outcome might be for his missing team meetings and about how he felt his job was at risk. It was only after sharing these concerns, and Martin's abandonment of the team, that the bullying allegations were raised. Rather than deal with his poor on field performance and myriad other issues, Martin is now hiding behind false allegations.
Per Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Schamel feels as though Martin should take responsibility for his actions just as Incognito has.
Schamel said that Incognito "owned his inappropriate comments," and added that, "it is time for Jonathan Martin to do the same."
In an interview this week with Tony Dungy of NBC's Football Night in America, Martin said that the persistent bullying he endured ultimately pushed him over the edge, according to Tracy Connor of NBCNews.com:
I'm a man. I'm a grown man. I've been in locker rooms. There's vulgar language in locker rooms. One instance doesn't bother me. It's the persistence of it. I wish I would have had more tools to solve my situation, you know, but I...I felt trapped like I didn't have a way to make it right. And it came down to the point where, you know, I thought it was best just to remove myself from the situation.
Despite the new information that continues to come to light, Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel doesn't feel as though the changing perception of Martin is fair:
Sad reality is if u ask NFL players which guy you're want in your locker room - Incognito or Martin - I'm certain 90% would say Incognito.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) January 30, 2014
Regardless of how this situation plays out, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross doesn't expect either player to return to his team in 2014, according to ESPN.com's James Walker:
We had #Dolphins owner Stephen Ross admit he doesn't expect Jonathan Martin or Richie Incognito back in 2014.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) January 29, 2014
Incognito will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so he'll be free to sign with any team. Due to the baggage attached to him, though, it is unclear if a team would be willing to take a chance on him.
Which player will play in the NFL next season?
If Incognito's new PR firm is able to prove that the entire bullying scandal was blown out of proportion, however, it is possible that a team will roll the dice on a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
As for Martin, he is still property of the Dolphins, but it seems likely that some type of release settlement will be agreed upon. Even though he has been viewed as the victim throughout this scandal, it may be even more difficult for him to find another NFL job than it will be for Incognito.
If nothing else, that illustrates the changing landscape of this entire situation.
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