A FAR-REACHING inquiry has been launched into one of American football’s most famous clubs after a locker-room squabble between players escalated into charges of racial abuse, bullying and financial impropriety.
The crisis engulfing the Miami Dolphins has sent shockwaves through the game and led to the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, promising a top-to-toe review of the damaging allegations.
Mr Goodell has appointed New York lawyer Ted Wells to look into claims that a senior Miami player, offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who is white, bullied Jonathan Martin – a black newcomer to the team – over two seasons.
Martin, 24, prompted the inquiry by walking out on the club during a training session last week and filing a formal complaint of harassment against Incognito, who was promptly suspended by team officials and unlikely to play for the Dolphins again, according to the Miami Herald.
Chief among the allegations is that Incognito, 30, sent abusive text messages and left a racially charged message on Martin’s voicemail, calling the mixed-race player a “half-n*****” and threatening to kill him.
Details of wider alleged harassment emerged earlier in the week, including claims that a number of the Dolphins’ multi-millionaire senior players forced significantly lower-paid newcomers, including Martin, to fund their extravagant celebrity lifestyles.
Incognito, it was claimed, demanded that Martin pay $15,000 towards the cost of an un- official team outing to Las Vegas that the younger player did not attend, even though Incognito himself earned $13 million (£8.1m) over the past three years. Meanwhile, Jared Odrick, another senior Dolphins player, posted on Twitter a picture of teammates enjoying a sumptuous seafood dinner with the caption: “Everything tastes better when rookies pay for it.” The bill for that one meal, picked up by first-year players earning the league minimum salary of $390,000, was more than $30,000, it was claimed.
Joe Philbin, the Dolphins head coach, and Stephen Ross, the club’s owner, have promised to co-operate with the inquiry, after appearing to switch their position on the growing scandal. Initially, after Martin first walked out following a lunchroom “prank” in which senior players stood up and left as he tried to sit and eat with them, the club released a statement stating that: “The notion of bullying is based on speculation and has not been presented to us as a concern from Jonathan or anyone else.”
Early yesterday, however, Mr Ross released a further statement. “As the owner, I am committed to creating a professional environment for all members of the Dolphins family. Once the review is completed and I have all the facts, we will respond accordingly.”
Senior players, meanwhile, defiantly sprang to Incognito’s defence. Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins quarterback, said Incognito and Martin were “best friends” before the scandal broke.
Tyson Clabo, another veteran, appeared to place the blame on Martin. “If Martin had a problem, he didn’t show it. If you have a problem with somebody, stand up and be a man,” he said.
Incognito, who is 6ft 3in and weighs 174kg, has denied the allegations against him. But he is known as a “hothead”, having been suspended then fired by two college teams and released by his first professional team, the St Louis Rams, in December 2009 after fighting with his coach.
Abraham Forman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “Bullying often occurs in workplace environments where differences of race, class and education collide.”