DAVIE, Fla. — In the stadium program sold at the Miami Dolphins’ game on Halloween, Richie Incognito was asked who’s the easiest teammate to scare. His answer: Jonathan Martin.
The troubled, troubling relationship between the two linemen took an ominous turn Monday with fresh revelations: Incognito sent text messages to his teammate that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation said.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Dolphins and NFL haven’t disclosed the nature of the misconduct that led to Sunday’s suspension of Incognito, a veteran with a reputation for dirty play.
Martin, a tackle, remained absent from practice Monday one week after he suddenly left the team because of emotional issues. Also missing was Incognito, a guard suspended indefinitely late Sunday by coach Joe Philbin for his treatment of Martin.
The 319-pound Incognito, a ninth-year pro, is white. The 312-pound Martin, who is in his second NFL season, is black. For much of the season they’ve played side by side.
The team and NFL continued their investigation into allegations by Martin’s representatives that he was bullied, and Philbin said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross asked league commissioner Roger Goodell for assistance. The NFL Players Association also planned to look into the matter.
“Every decision I’ve made, everything we’ve done in this facility has been done with one thing in mind,” Philbin said. “That’s to help our players and our organization reach their full potential. Any type of conduct (or) behavior that detracts from that objective is not acceptable and is not tolerated.”
It’s unclear whether coaches or management had any inkling of harassment between the players before Martin left the team, and Philbin declined to answer a question about the locker-room culture. Recent rumblings of dissension have also included complaints by young players that they’re pressured to pay more than their share when team members socialize together.
After beating Cincinnati in overtime Thursday, the Dolphins had three days off while the Martin story mushroomed. They returned to practice Monday and afterward found nearly 100 reporters and cameramen in their locker room.
Teammates praised both Incognito and Martin and expressed regret regarding their absences, but said it was time to get on with business.
“The only thing affecting us is we can’t even get dressed,” said receiver Mike Wallace as he surveyed the media throng.
Wallace said he found Incognito to be intense but a good teammate. Newcomer Bryant McKinnie agreed.
“When I got here, he was a guy who had everybody laughing and told jokes,” said McKinnie, a tackle who joined the team two weeks ago. “I didn’t really see the side being portrayed right now.”
Hazing of young players has a long history in sports, but Incognito’s treatment of Martin raised questions about whether coaches or teammates should have intervened.
“It’s not a thin line. It’s pretty obvious stuff that shouldn’t be crossed,” Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty said. “You would hope if stuff was getting out of hands, there were guys in the locker room who would step up and maybe nip it in the bud before it got out of control.”
Philbin said he was unaware of hazing incidents that involved Incognito — such as hacking into a teammate’s Facebook page — shown on the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” which chronicled the Dolphins’ training camp in 2012. Philbin said he never watched the program.
“If the review shows that this is not a safe atmosphere, I will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that it is,” Philbin said. “I have that obligation to the players that I coach on a daily basis, and I will do that.”
Before being suspended, Incognito posted several tweets saying he wanted his name cleared.
“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth,” Incognito tweeted, quoting Buddha.
Agents for the two players didn’t respond to requests for comment. Martin is with his family in Los Angeles for counseling.
Incognito, who’s in the final year of a $13 million, three-year contract, has long had a reputation of being among the NFL’s dirtiest players. During his first four years, he led the league in penalties for unnecessary roughness, and the St. Louis Rams got fed up with his undisciplined play and released him during the 2009 season.
“There’s certain people out there who are just punks, and he wants to be that kind of guy,” former Seahawks and Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson said Monday. “But because he’s a lineman, he gets away with a lot of stuff that people don’t see. … Incognito is way worse than anybody I ever played against.”
However, there have been fewer such complaints since Incognito joined the Dolphins in 2010.
Last year he was voted by the league’s players into the Pro Bowl for the first time. He was the co-winner of the Dolphins’ Good Guy Award, given to the team’s most cooperative player by the local media. He also won frequent praise from Dolphins coaches for his leadership, and this year he was voted by teammates to serve as a member of the Dolphins’ player council.
At Nebraska, Incognito’s career was cut short when he was suspended in 2004 before his junior season following a locker room altercation with a teammate. He also ran into problems with the law while with the Cornhuskers, and they said he repeatedly violated team rules.
Martin protected Andrew Luck’s blind side at Stanford before joining Miami as a second-round draft pick in 2012. He has been a starter since the beginning of his rookie season, but has struggled while dividing his time between left and right tackle.
Stanford coach David Shaw said people at the school had been in touch with Martin.
“I’m a Jonathan Martin fan, so my interest is just in him getting back to the point where he gets a chance to play this game that he loves again,” Shaw said. “By all accounts he’s doing well. Not sure if he’s going to rejoin the team this year, or when he is, but I know he’s going to get himself back ready to play the game.”
For the first six games this year, Incognito and Martin were the two players protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. Their troubled relationship may help explain his NFL-high 35 sacks.