London Fletcher is playing his 16th NFL season, but Washington’s captain said Tuesday that he has never seen any player abused the way that Jonathan Martin allegedly was by fellow Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito, to the point that Martin left the team last week. Incognito was indefinitely suspended by the Dolphins on Monday.
“I’m real disappointed in the leadership in the locker room in Miami,” Fletcher said. “Where [were] the leaders on that team? I know Jonathan Martin didn’t feel comfortable enough to go to any of the guys. Either you’re encouraging it or you’re turning a blind eye and allowing the guy to get treated like he was getting treated. It was [up] to some veterans in that locker room to step up and put a stop to that.”
Incognito’s reputation as a bully dates to his years at Nebraska when he was convicted of assault, often fought with teammates, and was suspended at least twice. In the NFL, Incognito was voted the league’s dirtiest player in a survey conducted by The Sporting News in 2009, a season during which he was let go by St. Louis after an argument with coach Steve Spagnuolo and then by Buffalo before catching on with Miami in 2010.
A nine-year veteran, Incognito boldly displayed a sign in his locker that proclaimed his hate for rookies. He reportedly left Martin, who is bi-racial, a racist voicemail in 2012 threatening to kill the then-rookie as well as text messages in which he questioned Martin’s sexuality.
It was no secret that Martin, a Stanford graduate whose parents are Harvard-educated attorneys, was nicknamed “Big Weirdo” by his teammates in the sometimes hyper-macho, anti-intellectual NFL.
“Incognito is the main culprit, but I think he’s probably not the only guy who was giving Jonathan Martin a hard time, going beyond what the norm is,” Fletcher said. “What seemed like was going on there was beyond hazing.”
Way beyond. This wasn’t having rookies carry veterans’ shoulder pads off the practice field or buy the doughnuts for meetings. This was ugly — and personal.
“If we came across that type of behavior, I think we would nip it in the bud,” said Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, an offensive captain.
Safety Reed Doughty, a seven-year veteran and the leader of the Redskins’ special teams, said that coach Mike Shanahan established a no hazing atmosphere when he arrived in Washington in 2010.
“You want to treat your teammates with respect,” Doughty said. “Guys joke around with each other, [but they] know when something gets too serious. We’ve got a lot of leadership in this locker room.”
While quarterback Patrick Ramsey, Washington’s first-round draft choice in 2002, was famously tied to a goal post at training camp as a rookie, Williams, the Redskins’ top pick in 2010, said the worst thing that happened to him was his fleece jacket being tossed in the cold tub.
Williams was troubled when he heard about what Martin apparently endured for more than a year in Miami, fearing that it will be another black mark for a league which has been strongly criticized in recent years for the damage that its violence takes on its players later in life.
“I hate to hear that ‘cause with us being a fraternity [of players], it represents us,” Williams said. “It’s a bad representation. Guys that don’t really know us will probably get some type of perception off of that case about us and how we treat each other in the locker room.”
Doughty said that Washington’s locker room “is a normal workplace.” But of course, it isn’t. Not only are all the workers under 40 and male, they’re highly-paid performers who often share their workplace for 45 minutes, sometimes while naked or in various stages of undress, with male and female outsiders with cameras and tape recorders.
And yet, Incognito got away with his bullying, racist and homophobic treatment until Martin finally walked away. Now Incognito is gone, hopefully for good, and Martin will hopefully return, if not to the Dolphins, at least to the sport he loves.
“I think there will definitely be some type of mandate that comes down [from] the league, telling guys what is and what’s not acceptable,” Fletcher said.
But it shouldn’t have come to this point. What Incognito did to Martin wasn’t like Washington’s Brandon Meriweather disregarding his safety and that of the opponents he hit in their helmets in the heat of the moment during games, it was a continuous, pre-meditated assault on a teammate, hoping to break his spirit.
The NFL has been, and should be, for tough guys, but not for bullies.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.