Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito were great friends right up until the moment they weren’t.
Tyson Clabo called them “thick as thieves.” Best friends was how Ryan Tannehill put it.
But that all changed Oct. 28, the moment Martin abruptly walked away from the team and ignited a firestorm. He has since accused his friend and teammate of abusive behavior, and is now home in California undergoing treatment for emotional issues.
Incognito has become a national villain. He has been suspended indefinitely by his team, and won’t ever again play for the Dolphins. None of it is fair, an irate Clabo said Wednesday in an overwhelmingly pro-Incognito locker room.
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“He treated him like a little brother,” Clabo said. “They did a lot of stuff together, so if he had a problem with the way he was treating him, he had a funny way of showing it.”
When trying to explain Martin’s actions the past week, which have threatened to end both Martin’s career and Incognito’s, Clabo said: “I don’t know why he’s doing this. I think this whole thing is ridiculous.”
Added receiver Brian Hartline: “The people that can hurt you most are the ones closest to you, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Just how close? When Martin wanted to hit the town, he wouldn’t go without Incognito.
They strolled down Bourbon Street together. They sat together on team flights. They went to Heat playoff games. Big Weirdo was seen, at least by Incognito, as a term of affection.
And when Martin got into a practice-field scrap with Dion Jordan a few weeks ago, Incognito was the first to get his linemate’s back.
‘Be a man’
Said Clabo: “I’ve been here long enough to know that if Martin had a problem, he didn’t show it. I think that if you have a problem with somebody [you should] stand up and be a man.”
Though few people doubt Incognito deserves to be suspended — he was caught on tape using vile, racially charged language — fewer still have stopped to ask what else was in the message, only part of which has been released via transcript.
Right after telling Martin, “I’ll kill you,” Incognito told his teammate and friend, “OK, call me back,” the Miami Herald has learned.
And Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday that additional voicemails from Incognito featuring racial slurs also exist.
On Wednesday, Clabo implied that Incognito probably had “a few too many” that night, and didn’t even remember the call later.
Hartline added that Martin seemed fine with the voicemail in the past, and even laughed at it.
“He’s a good guy; I never had a problem with him,” said defensive tackle Randy Starks, who is black.
When asked whether Incognito was a racist, Starks replied: “No, not at all. Haven’t gotten that idea all these years.”
Center Mike Pouncey didn’t appear in the Dolphins locker room Wednesday, but he spoke privately earlier in the day with ESPN analyst Cris Carter.
Pouncey told Carter, the Hall of Famer, who later relayed on TV that Martin had considered quitting football long before leaving the team.
Carter said Pouncey told him: “There were times he struggled as a rookie and contemplated, ‘Am I cut out for this?’ ”
Pouncey also said he was never personally asked by coaches to toughen up Martin. Clabo said every player who enters pro football must go through a maturation process, but that Incognito didn’t treat Martin any differently than he treated anyone else.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Wednesday that Incognito was directed to take Martin under his wing and make him tougher.
Skeptics of the story continued to raise questions about the particulars. Why didn’t Martin ever bring concerns to Dolphins coaches or players? Why wait for six months after Incognito left the voice message to come forward? Why release only parts of the call? And even now, why not contact the police if he truly felt threatened?
These are just a few of the issues awaiting New York-based attorney Ted Wells, the NFL-appointed independent investigator into the Dolphins’ mess. His findings will be made public.
NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith is trying organize a meeting of both players’ agents to discuss the scandal, ESPN reported Wednesday.
Efforts to reach the NFLPA for comment were not immediately successful.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and former Miami Hurricane Warren Sapp said Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show that Incognito kicked him and called him the N-word during a Rams-Raiders game in 2006 — the only time they faced each other.
Sapp said he wasn’t necessarily upset by the slur, adding: “It’s a term of endearment where I come from.”
Outside groups, however, are rushing to denounce Incognito’s behavior.
The latest: the Anti-Defamation League, which called on the league and the Dolphins to investigate “troubling allegations of bullying, harassment and racial slurs in the Dolphins’ locker room” and to determine if this is a larger, league-wide issue.
“The bullying allegations involving Martin and Incognito have some of the hallmarks of behavior we have seen in larger society,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL national director. “While much of the attention on bullying in society appropriately focuses on young people, this incident awakens us to the fact that it is not necessarily limited to the young. Bullying often occurs in workplace environments where differences of race, class and education collide.”
Armando Salguero contributed to this report.