Miami Suspends Player As NFL Investigates Bullying Allegations

Miami Dolphins linebacker Richie Incognito was suspended Sunday after the team and the NFL said they were investigating bullying and abuse allegations made by his teammate. Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team last week on a leave of absence.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Miami Dolphins have indefinitely suspended one of their starting players. They've accused offensive lineman Richie Incognito of conduct detrimental to the team. This, after Incognito's fellow lineman Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team last week. Martin filed a complaint prompting the Dolphins and the NFL to investigate allegations of bullying and hazing. NPR's Mike Pesca joins me to talk about developments.

And Mike, there is news out of Miami today regarding some horrifying texts and voicemail messages that were reportedly sent from Richie Incognito to his teammate, Jonathan Martin. What can you tell us about them?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, Jason La Canfora of CBS first disclosed the existence of these texts and email and Adam Schefter of ESPN then started tweeting the actual content. There were things like: I'm going to slap you. I'm going to kill you. Incognito allegedly then engaged in a bunch of racial slurs. So ugly, ugly stuff.

BLOCK: And before this, let's back up just a little bit. Before these messages were revealed, Jonathan Martin suddenly was absent from the team. How did the Dolphins explain what had happened?

PESCA: Right. A week, ago, Jonathan Martin leaves the Dolphins training facility. He is upset. He is said to have been the victim of a prank gone wrong, possibly in the cafeteria. The Miami Herald quotes a member of the team as saying that he snapped. Then, somehow, it comes out that perhaps this was bullying. Perhaps Richie Incognito was involved in bullying or hazing Martin.

There is a discussion. How can a 315-pound guy be bullied? But today, the revelation of these texts and more details about what actually happened changes this into a discussion if a large person can be bullied to, you know, where we are now, which is real harassment, you know, possibly criminal.

BLOCK: Mike, tell us a bit more about the background of the players involved here and in particular, Richie Incognito. This is not his first brush with trouble, either on or off the field, right?

PESCA: Right. Well, first of all, Jonathan Martin was heavily recruited. He went to Stanford. He was a classics major. He was considering going to Harvard. If he had gone, he would've been the first ever fourth generation African-American at Harvard. His great grandfather went there.

Incognito, on the other hand, he had to transfer schools. He was suspended and dismissed from every school he went to. Got in fights, voted NFL's dirtiest player. There's a long laundry list of things that he's done in terms of getting suspended, getting in trouble with the law.

BLOCK: And is it clear, Mike, that this is limited, this alleged hazing is limited to these two players we're talking about?

PESCA: All throughout the reporting of this, it was said that this was hazing perhaps by the offensive line against Jonathan Martin. There's so much that's unclear and the existence of these voicemails and texts, you know, if true, that seems to be more tangible. The other thing, the broader issue is the issue of hazing in the NFL.

And hazing goes on in the NFL, much more so than it does in a lot of other institutions, you know. There's anti-hazing rules on college campuses. You can't do it in the military. But in the NFL, a private enterprise, it's gone on and it's seen as a harmless thing, where rookies have to carry equipment, sometimes rookies are made to pay very large bills when the veterans go out to eat.

And every once in a while it boils up and a rookie objects and he's usually told, stop being a baby. Get with the program. And the argument that works in the NFL: We put up with it, you should put up with it. It toughens you up. And I think a lot of NFL teams, maybe they'll be called upon to question that practice, but they might not because in this instance, what's being alleged is so far beyond the pale, they might not even recognize any parallel to the hazing that goes on in their locker room.

BLOCK: So the alleged perpetrator has been suspended. The team is investigating. The league is investigating. Does the Player's Association get involved?

PESCA: Yeah, the Player's Association, it was at the behest of the Player's Association looking into this that the league got involved. But it's now being handled at a level higher than the team itself. There's no indication that Martin will come back, and we're going to have to wait to see what they do with Incognito.

In the past, the commissioner, Roger Goodell, has leveled heavy fines and heavy suspensions for things that embarrass the league. It's not hard to think that Roger Goodell will act upon this very fiercely.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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