Miami Dolphins owner investigates bullying allegation
(CNN) — Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will meet with Jonathan Martin on Wednesday to learn why the player left the NFL team.
Martin’s sudden departure two weeks ago ignited a controversy over locker room hazing, perceived bullying and racial slurs among professional football players.
“We want to get to the bottom of it,” Ross told reporters in Miami on Monday. “We want to get to hear what the real facts are. There’s been so much said and done to date that I don’t think anybody really knows what has happened, because nobody has really spoken with Jonathan Martin directly.”
Martin, 24, left the Dolphins last month because of “harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing,” his lawyer said. Days later, the team suspended veteran lineman Richie Incognito, 30, for conduct detrimental to the team.
Incognito insisted in an interview over the weekend that his vulgar text messages and voicemail to Martin were misunderstood because “people don’t know how Jon and I communicate to one another.”
“The world has changed, with social media and everything today, but one thing that will not change, there will be no racial slurs or harassing or bullying in that workplace, in that locker room and outside the locker room,” Ross said.
Ross, a real estate developer, has exchanged his own text messages with Martin in recent days, he said. As a result, he will fly on his private jet to an undisclosed location on Wednesday to talk with his former player.
“I would like to hear from him, what had happened, why he felt that way, the whole origin, what we did or what we could have done to really prevent something like this from happening,” Ross said.
He’ll go there with “an open mind,” Ross said.
“I want to hear the facts,” he said. “From the facts, I can then say ‘Hey, were we right? Were we wrong?’ and what have you. You can’t just deal with speculation, and I will not deal with speculation.”
Incognito acknowledged in an interview aired on “Fox NFL Sunday” that he used racist and vulgar language in voicemails and text messages to Martin but said it was “coming from a place of love.”
“No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate,” he told Fox Sports reporter Jay Glazer. “That’s how our friendship was.”
“For instance, a week before this went down, Jonathan Martin text me on my phone ‘I will murder your whole F-ing family,'” Incognito told Glazer. “Now, do I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit.”
While Martin has not spoken publicly since the controversy erupted, his attorney David Cornwell broke the silence on his behalf with a prepared statement last week.
Martin tried “to befriend … teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment” — something Cornwell called “a textbook reaction of victims of bullying.”
The taunting did not stop, however, the lawyer said. He cited “a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate and daily vulgar comments,” and a threat of a group sexual assault against Martin’s sister.
“Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice,” Cornwell said of Martin leaving the Dolphins. “… Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation.”
Ross said he called for the independent investigation by the NFL because he knew the objectivity of a team investigation could be questioned.
“We need to look at ourselves,” Ross said. “We have to examine everything internally. I know that this is so appalling to me.”
But Ross also said he wanted to avoid overreacting. He formed a committee to help guide the changes, including former Dolphin coach Don Shula and quarterback Dan Marino.
“We all know that the football locker room is a different workplace than most of us are accustomed to,” Ross said. “Basically, I don’t want to make any excuses. I want to know that our workplace going onward will be the best workplace that you can find in the NFL.”
Ross said he had “total confidence” in head coach Joe Philbin.
The only issue that Incognito “sidestepped and wouldn’t answer” in his Fox Sports interview concerned the allegation that Miami coaches had ordered a “code red” instructing the veteran to “toughen up” the younger Martin, Glazer said.
Incognito said “legal issues” prevented him from answering.
“The face of bullying in America”
“Right, wrong or indifferent, because of all this, you’ve become the face of bullying in America,” Glazer told Incognito. “Someone thinks of a bully, they think of Richie Incognito.”
“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” Incognito said. “This is an issue of my and Jon’s relationship, where I’ve taken stuff too far, and I didn’t know it was hurting him.”
A profanity-filled voicemail from Incognito to Martin that has been made public was intended to shock him so “his buddy” would call him back, he said.
“I understand why a lot of eyebrows get raised,” Incognito said, “when people don’t know how Jon and I communicate to one another.”
Incognito: “I’m not a racist”
“When it’s on the screen it sounds like I’m a racist pig, it sounds like I’m a meat head,” he said. “It sounds like a lot of things it is not. And I wanted to clear the air just being saying that I’m a good person.”
He acknowledged using the n-word in his communications with Martin, who is African-American.
“I’m not a racist and to judge me by that one word is wrong,” Incognito said. “It, in no way, shape or form, is ever acceptable for me to use that word, even if it’s friend to friend in a voicemail.” He said “it was a joke.”
The word is “thrown around a lot” in NFL locker rooms and it’s “a word that I’ve heard Jon use a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of colorful words thrown around in the locker room that we don’t use in everyday life.”
Martin was his “best friend” on the team, Incognito said.
“You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room, who had Jon Martin’s back the absolute most, and they’ll undoubtedly tell you me,” he said.
Incognito said he was “miffed” by “how I missed this and I never saw it coming.”
Glazer asked Incognito what he would say to his former teammate today if he were in the room.
“I think I would give him a big hug right now, because we’ve been through so much and I’d be like ‘Dude, what’s going on? Why didn’t you come to me?'” he said. “If he were to say ‘listen, you took it way too far, you hurt me.’ You know, I would just apologize and explain to him exactly what I explained to you. And I would apologize to his family that they took it as malicious. But I never meant it that way.”
CNN’s Dan Moriarty contributed to this report.