TAMPA, Fla. — Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has broken his silence on the bullying scandal that has engulfed his team, saying he’s appalled by Jonathan Martin’s allegations of daily harassment by teammates.
Ross said he plans to meet with Martin on Wednesday at an undisclosed location and that he has been in touch with the tackle by text.
” I look forward to meeting with Jonathan Martin, discovering the facts,” Ross said.
The owner vowed before Monday night’s game between the Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get to bottom of the allegations and create a locker room culture that “suits the 21st century.”
“It couldn’t have been a worse nightmare,” said Ross, who was joined at the press conference by team president and chief executive officer Tom Garfinkel.
The NFL is investigating Martin’s allegations against teammates, including Richie Incognito. Martin, 24, is with his family in California to undergo counseling for emotional issues. Incognito has been suspended indefinitely.
A special investigator for the league will determine whether Incognito harassed Martin, and whether the Dolphins mishandled the matter.
Ross strongly endorsed Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, saying he had the “utmost confidence” in the man he hired in 2012.
“Joe Philbin is probably one of the most organized people I’ve ever met,” Ross said. “When I interviewed him that stood out, but what also stood out was his character. I don’t think there is a better person, a more respected person, a more caring person in the National Football League than Joe Philbin.”
While not holding Philbin responsible, Ross said changes need to be made in his organization.
“We need to look at ourselves. We have to examine everything internally,” Ross said. “This is so appalling to me. I know I’m capable of overreacting. I want to get everybody’s feedback because we all know the football locker room is a different workplace than most of us are accustomed to. I don’t want to make any excuses.”
Ross said to he has formed a committee of advisers. There are five members on it now and he wants to add more in order “to protect me and them and the players from my overreacting, and having a code of conduct that suits the 21st century. Change is needed. We’re going to make sure we’re the best organization in the National Football League.”
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Martin left the team two weeks ago. His attorney has alleged that Martin was harassed daily, and Incognito acknowledged leaving a voicemail for Martin in April in which he used a racist term, threatened to kill his teammate and threatened to slap Martin’s mother.
Incognito is white and Martin is biracial. Teammates both black and white have said Incognito is not a racist, and they’ve been more supportive of the veteran guard than they have of Martin.
Incognito, 6-3, 319 pounds, has long been labeled one of the NFL’s dirtiest players with a reputation for out-of-bounds behavior off the field. But this season he was a member of the player leadership council, raising questions about the role of coach Joe Philbin, his staff and Miami management in the case.
Also in question is the team’s role in a May 2012 incident involving Incognito. A police report said a female volunteer at a Dolphins charity golf tournament complained that Incognito harassed her, but he wasn’t charged, and news of the case surfaced only last week.
Incognito, 30, has declined to say whether coaches ordered him to toughen up Martin, a second-year pro from Stanford.
The scandal is the latest public-relations headache for Ross since he became majority owner of the Dolphins in 2009. They’ve endured four consecutive losing seasons, their longest such streak since the 1960s, and often play in a half-empty stadium, their local popularity eclipsed by the Miami Heat.
Ross apologized to Dolphins fans “for being in this position. I know we will come out of this as a better organization.”