Fins vets support Richie Incognito

Updated: November 7, 2013, 1:21 PM ET
By James Walker | ESPN.com

DAVIE, Fla. -- Veteran Miami Dolphins players offered overwhelming support for suspended guard Richie Incognito on Wednesday, while also displaying anger toward second-year offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team last week after claims of harassment and misconduct.

Tannehill Richie said, 'Jonathan is like my little brother.' I think that's an accurate depiction. He gave him a hard time. He messed with him. But he was the first one there to have his back in any situation.

-- Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on the relationship between linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin

"I think if you have a problem with somebody -- a legitimate problem with somebody -- you should say, 'I have a problem with this,' and stand up and be a man," offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. "I don't think what happened is necessary. I don't know why he's doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin."

Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN on Monday that Incognito used racial epithets and profane language toward Martin on multiple occasions. In a transcript of a voice mail message from April, Incognito referred to Martin as a "half n----- piece of s---," and added, "F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."

Representatives for Martin have turned over evidence of harassment to the Dolphins, the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

Attorney Ted Wells has been appointed by commissioner Roger Goodell to direct an independent investigation into the Dolphins' workplace conduct. That report will be made public.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith released a statement Thursday saying he has been in contact with Dolphins players.

"I continue to be in touch with players in Miami, their representatives and player leadership, and I look forward to information that defines the full scope of the NFL's investigation," he said. "Every NFL player should expect safe and professional working conditions. The NFLPA has taken steps to ensure that every one of our affected members is represented. It is our duty as a union to learn the full facts, protect the interests of players involved and hold management accountable to the highest standards of fairness and transparency."

ProFootballTalk.com, citing multiple league sources, reported that Martin's agent, Rick Smith, called Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland before his client left the team Oct. 28 and complained about the manner in which the second-year player was being treated by Incognito.

In response, Ireland suggested Martin respond to Incognito physically and specifically mentioned that he should "punch" the veteran guard, the sources told ProFootballTalk.com.

Some Dolphins players were aware of the contents in the voice mail, but many defended Incognito against claims that he is racist and intended to harm Martin.

"If I'm not mistaken, this is the same guy [Martin] who was laughing about this voice mail at one point and time, first of all," receiver Brian Hartline said. "Second of all, I believe that, if you go through the whole voice mail, there's some things said that you probably shouldn't say in general, friends or not friends. But I know for a fact that I've said things to my friends that I kind of wish I never said, either.

"With that being said, I never thought it was a death threat. I never thought he was actually going to do the things he said. If you can't take validity from one part of the voice mail, how do you take validity from the whole voice mail? You can't pick and choose what parts count and which parts don't count."

Asked to clarify if Martin laughed at the voice mail, Hartline hedged.

"I just remember it was being passed around at one point as a joke. I could be mistaken."

Dolphins players described Incognito and Martin as good friends. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill even described Martin as a protégé of Incognito's.

"Richie said, 'Jonathan is like my little brother,'" Tannehill said of a past conversation. "I think that's an accurate depiction. He gave him a hard time. He messed with him. But he was the first one there to have his back in any situation."

Added left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who joined the Dolphins last month: "I thought they were friends. They looked like friends to me. I never seen any tension or anything. I didn't see this coming.

"The only person who got [punished] was Richie. The other guy, that was his option. He had a choice what he wanted to do. Richie didn't really have a choice."

The Dolphins suspended Incognito, a free agent after this season, indefinitely on Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team. The Miami Herald reported Monday that the Dolphins plan to cut ties with the player.

"What's been bothering me is the kind of things that you hear from outside this locker room about things that maybe undermine the integrity or the leadership or the type of players and the class of guys that we have here and the class of this organization,'' defensive end Cameron Wake said. "I've been here five years, and Coach [Joe] Philbin has done nothing but turn this organization in a positive direction from top to bottom.''

As for Martin, some Dolphins players were asked if he can return to the team's locker room.

Several players declined to answer that question Wednesday -- almost, it seemed, out of spite.

Martin, a 2012 second-round pick, has two years left on his contract. He wants to continue playing football, according to three people who know and have spoken to the player, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

"The people who can hurt you the most in this world are the people closest to you," Hartline said of his stance on Martin and Incognito. "When you mistake one for the other, that's when you find problems."

Hartline said seeing the franchise take hits over the saga was difficult to bear.

"Now we're able to say our opinion and protect ourselves from being bullied by you guys because we weren't talking,'' Hartline said. "We weren't fighting back. We never said a word. We had to sit back and listen for a couple of days. We're kind of tired of it.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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