Here was Wednesday's first surprise: Brian Hartline, the glib Dolphins receiver, said Jonathan Martin played the infamous voicemail from Richie Incognito in the locker room for teammates. And he didn't play it in anger. "He was passing it around and laughing about it,'' Hartline said Wednesday. That's when you knew another turn was being taken in an ugly chapter that again leaves you baffled. But wait. There were more turns. Like when every player, black and white, pooh-poohed that voice mail's use of the n-word. "We know Richie,'' said defensive tackle Randy Starks, who is black. "We're just trying to clear Richie's name. He's had a bad rep. He's a good guy. Never a problem. He's not a racist.'' That's how it was all across the Dolphins locker room. Old and young. Black and white. Support for Richie. Confusion over Martin. Even anger for Martin for breaking the locker-room code. "If Jonathan Martin had a problem, you say, 'Hey, I have a problem with this,' '' veteran tackle Tyson Clabo said. "Stand up and be a man. I don't think what happened was necessary. I don't know why he's doing this (making public accusations)." Now, I'm not saying anyone has to accept a NFL locker room's sense of morality, especially this discussion of the n-word. And I'm not saying these players are right in their conclusions. But I'm out of answers right now. Are you allowed to say that in a story where everyone in the media is pointing, speculating, taking sides and saying who should be fired? Can anyone call a time-out and say we need more answers? This isn't a sports story. It's a national flash point on bullying and locker-room culture. But what if Martin really was laughing about the tape in the locker room? Does it change your view of how he took it? Well? And that's just it. Anything can be portrayed any which way with limited information. We need to take a breath until the three involved sides – Martin, Incognito and the Dolphins coaches – state their case to the appointed NFL investigator. Or, more likely, they'll state them in a courtroom. That's where issues involving tens of millions of dollars, public reputations and big companies usually land. For now, there are too many questions to do more than keep backing up over the same ground. Coach Joe Philbin won't say if Incognito was told to, "toughen up,'' Martin. Did Incognito's voice mail in April make Martin leave the team in October? Did Martin, who is reportedly receiving mental treatment, need help during his Dolphins time? Did Dolphins coaches know of that in dealing with him? And, as for that voice mail, can we hear it? Will we? There's no defense for using the n-word in any context. But context can be noteworthy. The Dolphins players are united in one thing in this saga: They don't believe the national narrative that Martin was bullied. Maybe this is the ultimate bullygame being played, a whole team against one man? Or maybe not. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said the same prank initially reported to cause Martin to leave the team – players deserting him at a cafeteria table – is so common it was pulled on him a week earlier. The Dolphins players say they were muzzled by the team officials earlier this week. They came out swinging Wednesday. And the bottom-line is even those close to this scene sound confused over what happened. Hartline said Incognito treated Martin like a, "little brother." Veteran John Denny said Incognito stepped in to back up Martin in fights, "six or seven times," this most recent training camp. "If you asked Jonathan Martin before this week who his best friend on the team was, he'd have said Richie Incognito," Tannehill said.
Dolphins players line up in support of Incognito
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel | Nov 7