Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, and the NFL’s future

Story highlights

Recent allegations have sparked chatter about just what kind of behavior is tolerated in the NFL

Was there hazing, bullying, extortion?

How common is this behavior and what will the NFL do?

CNN  — 

Allegations of racial slurs and threats of violence against Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin have left Pro Bowler Richie Incognito suspended from the Miami Dolphins and sparked widespread chatter about just what kind of behavior is tolerated in the NFL.

Here are five key questions about what lies ahead:

Will the Dolphins cut Richie Incognito?

He’s been suspended “for conduct detrimental to the team.” As for his future, the Dolphins don’t seem poised to make a decision quickly. “We reached out to the NFL to conduct an objective and thorough review,” the team said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the league on this matter.”

But the Miami Herald reported that a club source told the newspaper that Incognito was done with the team and will never play another game as a Dolphin.

And USA Today cited two sources in the personnel departments of other teams that said he would have a difficult time finding another team to take a chance on him.

“I think he can file his retirement papers,” one told the newspaper.

For right now, all eyes will be on the NFL probe.

Incognito ‘weathering the storm’

Does Jonathan Martin have a future in the NFL?

The 24-year-old Martin, who played at Stanford before going pro, left the team last week, during his second season. No matter what the investigation finds, it’s unclear whether he would want to come back.

Aside from the alleged threats and racial slurs from Incognito, Martin has rejected parts of the culture of the NFL, according to some reports.

Some of Martin’s teammates got up from a lunch table as a joke when Martin sat down last week, infuriating Martin, according to an analyst for called it a “lunch-room prank” that players pulled on whoever was last to arrive with his food.

Former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams told CNN the NFL is “like a closed fraternity. It’s really not made for everyone.”

Was there hazing, bullying, extortion?

Given the allegations and the environment of the NFL, it’s unclear whether Martin was threatened, bullied, hazed, and/or even shaken down for money.

The central allegations involve voice mails in which Incognito allegedly used racial slurs and threatened physical violence against Martin. One transcript, published by, includes an apparent reference to Martin’s biracial background. In the call, Incognito allegedly referred to Martin as a “half (expletive) piece of (expletive),” and threatened, among other things, “I’ll kill you.”

Incognito apparently denied the accusation, tweeting ESPN, which had reported the transcript, “shame on you for attaching my name to false speculation.” The tweet and others were later deleted, according to

ESPN reported that Incognito allegedly got Martin to contribute $15,000 to help finance a trip to Las Vegas by a group of Dolphins even though Martin preferred not to travel with them. Martin gave Incognito the money, fearing the consequences if he did not, the report said.

How common is this behavior?

Time magazine calls the NFL “a naturally twisted workplace.”

There is “often a blurry line between hazing and outright abuse,” it says. “When your job is to be a maniac on the field, it shouldn’t be surprising that a player like Incognito, who has a history of anger management and substance abuse issues, could take things too far.”

The attention around the Martin-Incognito case shines a light on that blurry line.

Former offensive lineman Kyle Turley described a hazing incident in 1998, when he and other Saints rookies ran through a hallway with pillowcases on their heads while teammates punched and kicked them, Time reports.

Still, Incognito’s alleged behavior shouldn’t be seen as representative of many players, analysts say.

“If the evidence is factual, Dolphins guard Richie Incognito is a racist, a bully and one of the lower forms of life known to man,” writes Sports Illustrated columnist Jim Trotter.

And while some NFL players and personnel believe Martin should not have made the issue public, they’re also not defending Incognito, Trotter says.

What will the NFL do?

This case could rattle the culture of the NFL.

It will force the league to establish just what forms of behavior are acceptable, and what’s done to make sure those standards are followed. Who, if anyone, will police players when they stray from what’s allowed? Will coaches be held accountable?

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin “has to bear his share of blame here,” USA Today quotes Sports Illustrated’s Peter King as saying. “The buck stops with him concerning what happens in the locker room … . (T)he coach is ultimately responsible for player behavior getting out of hand.”

The NFL Players Association issued a statement saying it expects “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.”

As the NFL launches its probe, it could find itself officially informed of numerous other incidents throughout the league. This one case between two men could prove the catalyst for the league to acknowledge and deal with disturbing behavior in its ranks.