As the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga continues to unfold, Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin promised Wednesday that the team will take action if an NFL investigation finds that changes need to be made.
“If the review reveals anything that needs to be corrected, we will take all necessary measures to fix it so that this doesn’t happen again," Philbin said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed attorney Ted Wells as special counsel to direct an independent investigation into issues of workplace conduct at the Dolphins, the league announced Wednesday.
Allegations surfaced on Monday that Incognito sent Martin, his teammate on the Dolphins’ offensive line, racist and threatening text messages. Martin left the Dolphins last week for reasons unrelated to football, according to the team. It suspended Incognito indefinitely on Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team.
Philbin would not talk about the NFL's investigation, but did briefly comment about Martin.
"Jonathan Martin came in here and worked hard every single day," he said.
He said he met with Martin, and communicated with his family.
Martin's departure came after a reported prank in the team cafeteria. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill spoke about that and the players' relationship Wednesday.
“I would say Jonathan’s like Richie’s little brother. The situation, I wasn’t sitting at the table, but the whole situation in the lunchroom that everybody knows about now where they stand up just as a joke, they’ve played it on me before, I’ve had the same several times played on me," Tannehill said. "Right when he was about to come up, Richie said, you know, Jonathan’s like my little brother. And I think that’s an accurate depiction. He gave him a hard time, he messed with him, but he was the first one there to have his back in any situation, and it’s a big surprise what’s going on.”
Philbin told the media that his primary responsibility is with his players and staff.
“The type of culture that I’ve championed since the day that I walked through these doors has been one of honesty, respect and accountability for one another," he said. "I consider those to be hallmarks of this program, and I believe our locker room reflects those beliefs. I believe in the men in our locker room and I believe in our coaching staff – and that’s exactly what I communicated to them today.”
Philbin said the team is focused on preparing for its Monday game against Tampa Bay.
Wells, a senior partner in the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, will prepare a report for Goodell that will be made public.
"Mr. Wells will conduct a thorough and objective investigation. He will ensure that we have all the facts so that we can address this matter constructively," Goodell said in a statement. "We have worked previously with Paul Weiss and have great respect for the firm. Ted Wells will have full authority to investigate as he deems appropriate."
Wells will complete the investigation as soon as possible, but a specific timetable has not been set, Goodell said.
Wells has conducted special investigations into the Syracuse basketball sexual harassment case, and the NBA players union leadership dispute. In the latter case, his report led to a change in the head of the union.
The NFL is conducting its investigation of the entire episode at the request of the Dolphins, who have pledged their full support for the inquiry. The NFL Players Association is monitoring the investigation closely.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross thanked Goodell for quickly appointing Wells as special counsel.
"He has an impeccable reputation and we look forward to fully cooperating with the review. We take this situation seriously," Ross said in a statement. "As the owner, I am committed to creating a professional environment for all of the members of the Dolphins family. Once the review is completed and I have all of the facts, we will respond accordingly.”
The Incognito-Martin story took another surprising turn Tuesday evening when a report surfaced suggesting Incognito had been asked to compel Martin to attend voluntary workouts before he sent the messages that got him suspended from the team.
Before Incognito sent racially charged messages to Martin, he was asked by coaches to convince Martin to join his teammates at voluntary offseason training sessions, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. The workouts occurred in April, and Martin had already missed the first one when Incognito was approached by coaches.
The ongoing saga has raised questions about whether Philbin and his staff were negligent in allowing issues between Martin and Incognito to fester. Current and ex-players around the NFL say the situation reflects a lack of leadership because teammates of Martin and Incognito didn't intervene.
Incognito sent Martin text messages that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation have told The Associated Press. Martin, a second-year pro, is biracial, while Incognito, a nine-year veteran, is white.
An associate professor at the University of Miami School of Law told the AP that Incognito could face criminal charges.
"This can be pursued as an extortion case," Tamara Lave said. "It could also be pursued as making some kind of threat against the other player's life.
"This particular cultural moment is one in which people are very upset about bullying and hazing. ... I think that prosecutors may think it's important for them to do something. And the fact that you have a 300-pound man who feels so threatened and uncomfortable that he leaves, that's an indication of how serious it was."
But news that coaching staff asked Incognito to convince Martin to join voluntary activities could end up costing some coaches their jobs.
The team built by Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland has undergone heavy roster turnover after losing records each of the past four years. Of the 53 players on the squad, 20 are new to Miami this season.
"That's the one thing I've heard from every single former player ... there's a lack of leadership," said Jimmy Cefalo, a former Dolphins receiver and now their play-by-play announcer. "They might step in with Richie and say, 'Look, this has got to change.'"
The Dolphins' oldest player, 34-year-old John Denney, is a long snapper who sees little action. The second-oldest, 34-year-old Bryant McKinnie, has been with the team less than three weeks. The third-oldest, 31-year-old Tyson Clabo, joined the Dolphins this year.
In 2012 the team's player leadership council included Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Jake Long, all of whom left after last season. Their replacements were second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, newcomer Dannell Ellerbe — and Incognito.
An assertive veteran might have prevented any problems from escalating, said former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson, now an analyst with NFL Network.
"In every locker room there are jerks; we all have them," Tomlinson said. "But at the same time, there are always guys that can go and talk to that jerk and say, 'You're going overboard.' My problem is Miami doesn't have that guy. ..."
Meanwhile, former players continue to speak out about the situation, including former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, who seemed to side with Incognito while speaking with NBC 6's Joe Rose on his radio show on WQAM Tuesday.
"To me, there’s no room to play the victim or to be bullied or even have that discussion when it comes to the NFL," Williams said. "I mean if you are having that discussion it just means that maybe you don't belong in the NFL."
Also under scrutiny is the role of offensive line coach Jim Turner, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who is in his first NFL job. It was his job to groom Martin, a second-round draft choice from Stanford who won a starting job as a rookie last year but developed a reputation for lacking toughness.
The Dolphins this week canceled a scheduled interview session with Turner.
The Anti-Defamation League called Wednesday for the Dolphins and the NFL to determine whether there is a wider problem of bullying in the sport.
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement:
"The allegation that Richie Incognito may have engaged in a pattern of behavior that involved bullying and harassment is troubling and has raised questions about a wider culture of hazing and harassment among players in the NFL. If bullying or harassment did in fact occur, the Dolphins need to take this matter seriously and implement appropriate actions to ensure that it does not happen again."
The ADL is calling for the NFL to determine if the incident was isolated to just one team or if bullying is prevalent across the league.