A long, tough road lies ahead for Miami. Losing to the winless Bucs was just the beginning.
The Jonathan Martin bullying fiasco and Richie Icognito drama has now turned into a mini-series. Legal action by Martin expected to draw this situation out past his relevance to the team and the city of Miami. The claims of physical abuse that recently surfaced kept the mystery of this situation at full peak.
The NFL spotlight had the infrared beam on Raymond James Stadium Monday night, for a game between two pretenders in an NFL regular season matchup that would otherwise be considered irrelevant and unwatchable.
The situation couldn’t have surfaced at a worse time, as the Dolphins hadn’t played since Thursday, Oct. 31 when they beat Cincinnati 22-20 in overtime to stop a four-game slide. The players have been sitting around watching their NFL world get dissected, destroyed and dissed by media outlets, with no way to release the frustration.
Playing for the first time since the scandal popped, the Dolphins (4-5) started slowly before overcoming an early 15-0 deficit to lead 19-15 heading into the fourth quarter, but Tampa Bay scored a late TD to snatch a 22-19 win, their first.
It’s unclear how much the tumbling turmoil affected Miami’s performance, but it’s quite obvious that it took the Dolphins a minute to focus on the task at hand. The loss of Incognito as a “player” on the field hasn’t been widely addressed, but it was on display on Monday. Even with Incognito, a leader on the O-line, and Martin, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill is still the NFL's most-sacked QB. Now, missing two members of their OL, Lamar Miller led the team with an abominable two rushing yards. That’s looking like a huge blow to Miami’s playoff hopes.
"The biggest thing I was disappointed was our lack of a running game," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who is now 11-14 in his first 25 games, told the Miami Herald. "I told the team: 'There's a lot of football left to be played. November and December will determine who moves forward.'"
The NFL is still investigating Martin's allegations of daily harassment by teammates, including suspended guard Incognito. Martin is camping out with family in California to undergo counseling for emotional issues, and he'll meet later this week with the league's special investigator to discuss the allegations.
After reviewing the case, the special investigator will determine whether Incognito harassed Martin, and whether the Dolphins mishandled the matter.
Owner Stephen Ross finally addressed the situation during a news conference before the game. He said he was “appalled” by Martin’s accusations and plans to meet with him on Wednesday at an undisclosed location.
"Obviously there was a voice we weren't hearing," Ross said, adding that he will take an open mind into the meeting and is eager to learn the facts of the case.
Ross says to avoid overreacting towards Incognito and other veterans who allowed this supposed pattern of abuse to fester, he formed an independent advisory group that includes Tony Dungy, Don Shula, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor and Curtis Martin to review organizational conduct policies, and to make recommendations on areas for improvement.
The Miami Dolphins brand took a hit over the past few weeks, but like every major catastrophe, the situation has had varying effects on Dolphins Nation. Other NFL communities are looking down on them like the Black Sheep of the NFL. There are those people who believe in free speech and support Richie Incognito, particularly in light of his teammates’ comments about his pass on using the N-word.
It lends credence to those who defend him as a victim of NFL locker room pressures as well. In his hidden insecurity to adjust and feel comfortable in a predominately black locker room, did Incognito over-indulge in his privileges with the N-word out of a desire to be accepted and considered “one of the niggas?”
The Dolphins have pulled together, at least publicly, as one unified locker room. The fans are obviously amped up, and can’t wait for their team to return home on Nov. 17 to play San Diego.
This situation will eventually pass, and in retrospect, Incognito will be remembered more for his social impact than his Pro Bowls or his track record of lewd behavior and confrontational vibes. The cameras have a tendency to take control of a situation. Sound bites grab sympathy and have longer lasting effects than the truth. Most people are hoping for an end game with swift justice, but before this chapter is done, both sides will be heard.
To be real about the situation and in keeping with the media philosophy of our times; “any publicity is good publicity” for a brand. If you look at the bright side, Miami is getting more coverage than a mediocre team could ever ask for. They haven’t been the center of the NFL world since Marino & Co. were obliterating passing records back in the 80s.
In the meantime, Incognito is doing exclusive interviews with Jay Glazer, and instead of becoming a hated symbol of racism and the wicked culture of NFL locker rooms, in some circles he is a sympathetic figure who has gotten caught up in an opportunistic media rush.
He’s also becoming the athletic light that sparks the progressive and sticky discussion about where the N-word will not only fit into black culture, but American mainstream culture moving forward.