Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Friday he’s aware of reports of discord within his locker room – including the alleged bullying of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin – and made clear that any such behavior “will not be tolerated.”
“This is something we take very seriously,” Philbin said. “I can say without question that we emphasize a culture of team first, accountability and respect for one another.”
Though it has been building for some time, Martin left the team Monday after a lunch-room prank pushed him past his breaking point; he hasn’t returned. According to a source, Martin is seeking help for emotional issues, and the Dolphins are concerned about his relationship with some of his teammates.
ESPN reported Friday evening that Dolphins guard Richie Incognito’s role into alleged harassment of Martin is under review by the NFL Players Association due to an incident that provoked Martin to leave the team. The report cited several sources as saying the incident was not isolated and extended to 2012 when Martin was a second-round draft pick by the team.
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Dolphins players and coaches hold Incognito in high regard. He is a member of the team’s leadership council and won the team’s Good Guy Award in 2012. Once regarded as an NFL bad boy and one of the dirtiest players in the league, Incognito has cleaned up his act since joining the Dolphins in 2010.
The Dolphins are officially saying Martin’s absence is due to a non-football illness, and privately concede that it’s of a mental, not physical, nature. Philbin said late Thursday that Martin has the team’s “concern and support.”
Privately at the team’s training facility in Davie, there was a sense of amazement with how large the story had become. The popular view within the locker room is that the central issue is not bullying, but rather a friend and teammate who needs help.
Martin’s situation is one of several issues within the Dolphins locker room. Word filtered out this week that there has been growing resentment between other players regarding non-football issues.
Nonetheless, the team pulled out a thrilling 22-20 overtime win Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals that essentially saved Miami’s season.
“Sometimes stuff happens,” Philbin said. “Stuff happens in the family, and it’s not always great and we have to deal with it.”
“[But] I’ve never been on a team or been part of a team where there wasn’t respect among the players in the locker room, the staff amongst themselves, the players respecting the coaches and the coaches respecting the players. If you don’t have that in this league, or Pop Warner, or high school or college, you don’t have a chance. I believe strongly in the men we have in the locker room, and I believe strongly in the staff.”
ROMBERG: ‘NO SYMPATHY’
Dolphins players, who were off Friday, uniformly said late Thursday they would accept Martin back.
However, that might be easier said than done.
Former University of Miami lineman Brett Romberg, appearing on 790 The Ticket Friday morning, said that he had “no sympathy” for Martin – and that he was speaking on behalf of the vast majority of football players.
“If you want to be sensitive, go play tennis,” said Romberg, who played parts of eight seasons in the NFL with three different teams.
Broadcaster and restaurateur Kim Bokamper played nine years for the Dolphins in the late 1970s and 1980s. Then, like now, players needed concrete-thick skin to survive.
Pranks and good-natured insults are part of the culture – and in fact, can actually boost morale, so long as they don’t come from a “mean and spiteful and malicious” place, Bokamper said. Indeed, Martin himself has been an active participant in such antics. Martin was a part of a the group that “stole” and hid teammate Josh Samuda’s car during training camp, a prank that was widely celebrated by the players on Twitter.
Those moments of levity are what many athletes miss the most after they retire. However, Bokamper never saw the ribbing get to a point where a player has walked out on the team.
The Dolphins certainly need Martin back. He’s a starter on a struggling offensive line without a lot of depth. But Bokamper said it could be awkward if and when he returns.
“I think it’ll be tough,” Bokamper said. “First and foremost, if he can help you win, he’ll be accepted back. But it’s going to be an uncomfortable situation when you walk into that locker room the first time.”
TOUGH WEEK FOR PHILBIN
Making that delicate situation work will be just the latest test of Philbin’s leadership. He has endured arguably his most trying week in Miami.
Along with Martin’s issue, he has had to deal with center Mike Pouncey being served a grand jury subpoena in connection with the Aaron Hernandez investigation. Plus there was the stress of a four-game losing streak that threatened to ruin the team’s season.
Not surprisingly, Philbin was on a relatively short fuse in the days leading up to Thursday night’s game, publicly calling out media members and coaches alike.
Philbin appeared far more relaxed Friday, speaking directly about the issues that exist within the organization.
“I think, last Monday when we got together as a team, we talked about a family atmosphere,” Philbin said. “You’re part of a family when you’re part of a team. There’s 61 players, 20 coaches. You have to have each other’s backs.
“The theme for this week was, we have to stick together and play like a team,” Philbin added. “We wanted to emphasize playing like a team, sticking together, having everyone’s back. I think the film bore that out.”