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Friday, February 14, 2014
Inside Slant: Dolphins' behavior common?

By Kevin Seifert


Physical and sexual threats about a teammate's mother and sister. Repeated and derogatory references to racial backgrounds. A $10,000 "fine" paid to other players for missing a group trip to Las Vegas.

Those are among the incidents that befell offensive lineman Jonathan Martin during his time with the Miami Dolphins, according to a report released Friday by NFL-appointed investigator Ted Wells. The subsequent question many will have: How typical is such behavior in an NFL locker room?

Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang took to Twitter in an attempt to distance his contemporaries from the tawdry details contained in the report, saying: "Please don't stereotype NFL players for what's going on with Miami. That type of stuff is not common in other locker rooms."

Is that truly the case? At any given time, there are 1,696 active players during an NFL season. I imagine each of them would have their own spin on that question. So on Friday I reached out to recently retired linebacker Ben Leber to get a sense of the true shock value here.

Leber, who played 10 seasons for three teams before his career ended in 2012, wasn't stunned to hear the details. During his career, I found Leber's interest in the psychology of the locker room to be particularly enlightening. As we talked Friday, Leber said the most noteworthy part of the report to him was a series of letters between Martin and his parents outlining his struggles -- none of which had been reported to teammates or the Dolphins' organization.

"That really gives you a candid insight into his mindset," Leber said. "In my mind, it exonerates a little bit of what was going on. It's not like they knew the mental turmoil he was experiencing. It looks like kind of a perfect storm to me. You had probably an amped-up locker room that was more extreme than most, and you have a guy in Jonathan Martin who realized how fragile his own mindset was. And then, it just so happens he is paired with an extremely aggressive kind of wheels-off offensive line crew that probably took it further than most guys do.

"But from their perspective, it sounds like they didn't do anything to intentionally harm him. They thought they were having fun. They're being 'bros' and figured this is what guys normally do. They might have gone above and beyond that in the end, because Jonathan didn't fight back, but they didn't know that he had these other issues and had been dealing with them since he was a juvenile [as detailed in the report]."

As wild as it sounds, Leber said he could see how some of the thousands of text messages between Martin and teammate Richie Incognito could devolve into such crude language, threats and personal attacks.

"I have two brothers who played sports," Leber said. "I think if people saw the text messages that we share between the three of us, they would be shocked. One says something off the wall, you go crasser and dirtier, and when it gets to a certain point, you 'win.' We all know each other. And I'm sure Richie and those guys thought they knew Jonathan."

We all want to believe this episode was in fact a perfect storm of circumstances. But as I wrote earlier Friday, the NFL and/or the Dolphins didn't have enough of an institutionalized boundary to protect against it. If the report is to be believed, none of the Dolphins' decision-makers were aware of interactions that ultimately left Martin contemplating suicide, and nothing stopped until Martin walked out on the team.

"To me," Leber said, "it's just a wake-up call to everybody in every locker room. We talk about players being respectful, treating the game with respect, but a lot of guys don't know what it means to respectful. The locker-room atmosphere, what we've known since high school and college, we don't truly respect people and we don't think about hurting people as a result."