DAVIE, Fla. -- The national media descended on the Dolphins training facility en masse Monday, probing the bizarre story of how one NFL player, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, was allegedly bullied so badly the 6-foot-5, 312-pound second-year player angrily left the training facility last week, sought counseling for distress, hasn't returned to the team, and eventually filed a complaint with the NFL.
The episode raises questions about bullying, racism, the culture of NFL locker rooms, and whether the Dolphins have put winning ahead of a safe work environment.
And yet in the face of all this, the accused, guard Richie Incognito, who reportedly sent racially charged messages to Martin, drew rave reviews from teammates on Monday, many of whom are African-American.
"Richie has been nothing but a fun-loving guy to me, and to the people that have been around me," defensive end Jared Odrick said.
In fact, Dolphins players were almost unanimous in their support of Incognito, who was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins on Sunday for "conduct detrimental to the team." Not a single player, publicly or privately, had a bad thing to say about Incognito, who was voted to the team's six-member Leadership Council, the group entrusted to solve problems.
"I don't get a lot of time with him," rookie cornerback Will Davis said, "but he's always just a funny guy and everybody loves him."
The unwavering support for Incognito comes despite an NFL source and published reports saying that Incognito, over the past year and a half, has made references to Martin's biracial background, threatened his safety, and extorted Martin out of at least $15,000. Players say that would be out of character for Incognito.
"I don't think what people are saying about him is true," defensive end Derrick Shelby said.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, trying to hold his team together in the face of this crisis, said he spoke to Martin not long after he stormed out of the facility on Oct. 28 after a prank by teammates went awry. Philbin said he also spoke to Martin and his family members in the days that followed.
"He never mentioned to me any accusation of any inappropriate behavior," Philbin said. "(It) was never mentioned to me at any point. Not in the meeting that I had with him, not in the phone conversation that I had with him."
Martin isn't the typical NFL player. His parents both attended Harvard, and he attended Stanford. He's quiet, cerebral and somewhat introverted. On the surface he hardly seems to be a candidate for being bullied because of his size.
But as the story goes, Incognito, once voted the NFL's Dirtiest Player, and a guy who most Dolphins players say they'd want with them if they had to walk down a dark alley, harassed Martin to a stunning degree.
ESPN reported in one voicemail Incognito referred to Martin as a "half-n- - - - - -" in one message and also threatened to defecate in Martin's mouth and slap Martin's mother.
On Oct. 28, the offensive linemen reportedly played a prank on Martin in the cafeteria in which they all left the table when he sat down. Martin reportedly slammed his food tray to the floor and left the cafeteria.
"I met with him later that evening, we had a good discussion," Philbin said. "Throughout the course of the week we've been in contact on multiple occasions with both him and members of his family."
In the days that followed numerous reports claimed Martin had been bullied by Incognito. The Dolphins placed Martin on the "non-football illness" list and in an effort to stem the tide of bad publicity, released a statement on Sunday that said the "notion of bullying is based on speculation and has not been presented to us as a concern from Jonathan or anyone else internally."
Later Sunday, the Dolphins released another statement that said they've been made aware of Martin's bullying claims and Incognito had been suspended.
Dolphins players said they don't think there's a negative environment around the team. They said perhaps some of what Martin has gone through has been normal.
"To some degree I think I don't want to call it hazing, it's a rite of passage," defensive end Cam Wake said. "This league is a group of elite men, it's a fraternity, it's a brotherhood, it's a lot of things. And there is a membership."
Although players overwhelmingly support Incognito in this matter, they've voiced support for Martin, too.
"Anything that's going on with J-Mart right now, I hope gets sorted out and I hope he's OK," Odrick said. "I hope he continues his career and plays great and plays awesome. He's a great guy."
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