Sources: 'Rookie Tax' at the Heart of Miami Dolphins' Jonathan Martin Hazing

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 3, 2013

This comes from a Miami Dolphins player in a brief interview with Bleacher Report:

"Some of the criticism is unfair. Some of it fair. No one has been physically bullied. I haven't seen it. Where things went too far was with the money."

This comes from an NFL agent who represents several Dolphins players: "The hazing thing is about the money. It's gone way too far."

The Miami locker room has been a mess. So many reports. Some are true; others are wrong. The Dolphins and the issue of hazing became a national story when offensive lineman Jonathan Martin suddenly left the team last week. He has yet to return.

The case is extremely murky, but two things are becoming clearer:

First, the extent of the situation in Miami isn't common across the NFL. It's mostly unique to the Dolphins in what has emerged as a harsh locker room environment.

Second, the core issue isn't necessarily about physical abuse—though that could still be an issue—but something else: money. More specifically, what some players around the NFL call a "virgin tax." Most players, however, call it a rookie tax.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

A rookie tax is common in the NFL. It's basically when veteran players force rookies or young players to pay for expensive dinners. The rookie tax can be annoying, but is normally harmless. However, if what players and agents say about the Dolphins is accurate, the veteran Miami players took that concept to an extreme.

Oct 20, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin (71) on the sideline in the second half of a game against the Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Teammate Richie Incognito has been identified as the alleged ringleader of Martin bullies. Incognito denies this and has demanded an apology from several news organizations. Sunday night, the Dolphins announced Incognito was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

FoxSports.com reported that Incognito left texts and voice messages that were racially insensitive and threatening in nature. The site also reported that financial demands from veterans to rookies were an issue. In one instance, rookies were forced to pay for a strip club outing.

The Dolphins late Sunday released a statement saying they had received a complaint from Martin. "We received notification today from Jonathan’s representation about allegations of player misconduct," the statement read. "We are taking these allegations very seriously and plan to review the matter further. We have also reached out to the NFL and asked them to conduct an objective and thorough review. As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.”

Then, around midnight on Sunday, the team released the statement saying Incognito was suspended. The statement read in part: "The Miami Dolphins have suspended Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time…"

Miami Herald writer Adam Beasley first reported on the rookie tax. One first-year player was given a bill for a $30,000 team dinner (the rookie minimum is about $400,000). Beasley also tweeted that veterans having financial difficulties were using younger players as ATMs

Fourth-year pro Jared Odrick tweeted a picture of a team dinner and wrote that "everything tastes better when rookies pay for it."

Rookies paying for the dinner of vets is not uncommon. In fact, it's a common practice that has gone on for decades. It happens in every locker room.

There is also the occasional extremely high dinner tab. This too has gone on for a long time.

Asking rookies to pay for expensive meals or other expenses is a remnant of the NFL in which there was no rookie wage scale. Rookies entered the league with far greater salaries than now, and some could maybe afford more than one $10,000 dinner tab.

What seems to be happening in Miami is that things went obscenely too far. This is what the Dolphins player, and the agent, indicated to me, and what Dolphins players told Beasley.

In conversations with players on Sunday, it's clear there is a line of delineation, and the Dolphins veterans may have crossed it. They may have abused the chain of command and NFL tradition, where rookies basically must listen to veterans but have faith veterans won't abuse that trust. Former Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo wrote for Fox Sports this weekend about how hard it can be for the veterans to back off.

Miami rookie players, I'm told, have been asked to pay for everything from dinners to grocery bills. According to the Dolphins player, several rookies were jokingly asked to make some mortgage and car payments, though it's unclear if either of these were actually made.

This is not a common thing. 

Jul 22, 2013; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68) during  training camp at the Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University.  Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN.com reported that Martin was asked by Incognito to contribute $15,000 for a trip by a group of Dolphins veterans who were traveling to Las Vegas. The story said Martin contributed, even though he didn't go, because he feared if he did not contribute, there would be retribution from Incognito.

This is appearing to be less about physical bullying—though that still may be possible (remember the Prince Amukamara video from last year?)—and more about some Miami veterans who maybe haven't handled their own finances well and began intimidating younger players into emptying their wallets.

How could a 300-pound man get bullied into giving up his cash?

You have to understand how an NFL locker room works. It is the most intimidating environment in team sports. It doesn't matter if a college player was an All-American or Heisman winner. Or first pick in the draft. You start out at the bottom and veteran players carry immense weight.

And when there are five or six veterans at one position imposing their will on one man at the same position, it's nearly impossible to fight. That is where the rookies rely on the humanity of the veterans. That compassion may have been missing with the Dolphins.

Bullying has been an issue in the NFL for decades, and while it hasn't been eradicated, it has been reduced. Some remnants of it remain. Maybe in Miami.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.