Miami Dolphins' coaches asked player Richie Incognito, who was the offensive line's undisputed leader, to toughen up teammate Jonathan Martin after he missed a voluntary workout last spring, at least two sources told the Sun Sentinel.
The sources told the paper they believe that Incognito, who is accused of using racially incendiary language and bullying tactics against Martin, may have taken those orders too far.
It's not clear whether those marching orders will now become part of a pending investigation by the NFL into the Dolphins' locker room culture, and the alleged bullying that took place between Incognito and Martin.
"I'm just trying to weather the storm right now. This will pass," Incognito told WSVN-TV when reached outside a doctor's office.
Incognito has been suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins for conduct detrimental to the team for his tactics involving Martin, the team's 2012 second-round pick, who left the team last week and later accused the Dolphins of having an unsafe working environment.
Martin's smoking gun is a threatening, and racially offensive voice mail Incognito left him in April. In that voice message Incognito calls Martin, who is bi-racial, a "half n---," threatened to slap his mother across the face, and uttered the words "I'll kill you."
Sources say that communication took place when Martin skipped two days of the team's OTA program, and Incognito was encouraged by his coaches to make a call that would "get him into the fold," one source said.
Even though OTA workouts are voluntary, the NFL culture forces coaches to strong arm the team's leaders to make sure everyone attends. Sources say Incognito was doing his job, but they admit he crossed the line.
"Richie is the type of guy where if he's on your team you love him," a teammate said. "If he's not on your team, you hate him. Every team needs a guy like that."
A Dolphins spokesman declined comment when told about Incognito's directives from the coaching staff, saying the franchise is fully cooperating with the NFL's independent investigation, which was requested by owner Steve Ross.
It is clear Incognito embraced his role as the team's enforcer and tough guy, his teammates said. However, nobody knew how troubling his relationship was with Martin, who started 10 straight games next to Incognito going back to the 2012 season, those same teammates added.
Martin abruptly left the team last week after a lunch room prank orchestrated by his fellow offensive lineman caused his emotional distress, and forced him to return to his California hometown, where he's receiving treatment.
The NFL Player's Association released a statement Tuesday saying it will monitor the NFL's investigation to ensure all the players the union represents, which includes Incognito, get a "fair investigation."
"We expect that the NFL and its clubs create a safe and professional workplace for all players and that owners, executives, coaches and players should set the best standards and examples," the statement read. "It is the duty of this union to hold the clubs and teams accountable for safety and professionalism in the workplace."
During Martin's rookie season he was nicknamed "Big Weirdo" by his teammates, and was forced to sport an embarrassing haircut given to him by the offensive linemen. He also forked over $15,000 for a veterans trip to Las Vegas he didn't attend.
The Dolphins traditionally hold rite of passage rituals for its rookies, and some of the team's antics -- which included ridiculous haircuts, hair dying, and elaborate dinners paid for by the rookies -- could be considered hazing. Those would make them a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Sources say players were annually directed by coach Joe Philbin to "cut out" the rookie hazing. Philbin comes from a Green Bay Packers culture where rookie hazing is minimal, or at least subtle. While Philbin tried to rein it in with the Dolphins, he and his coaching staff never policed it when the team was dying and shaving heads for the second straight training camp.
However, Philbin did insist that the rookies got decent haircuts before the team's first exhibition game, but that was after weeks of them sporting their embarrassing looks.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe indicated that Martin should have come to the leadership council with his problems, which apparently carried over to his second season. The problem is Incognito was also on the leadership council, and possessed a tremendous amount of power and influence.
That might explains why Martin hid his issues with Incognito, and on occasion hung around with him in South Florida, and during road trips. It is possible Martin felt he had to do so to feel accepted.
According to ESPN, Martin told former Stanford teammate Zach Ertz he planned to continue playing football. The Dolphins have kept him on the team's 53-man roster, and players have gone out their way to make sure he knows he's welcomed back. ___