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  Making Sense Out of Chaos
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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One thing I’ve learned in life is that the truth between two differing points of view is generally somewhere in between.

This belief seems to be playing out before our eyes in the case of the Incognito-Martin affair.

Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde called this unpleasant business “the ugliest chapter in Dolphins history”.

“Even in their last decade of high embarrassment”, Hyde wrote, “the Dolphins never have been part of a story this embarrassing”.

Succinct, and on point.

There are many, many questions that people inside and outside the organization have about this situation, a situation that threatens to not only carry away the 2013 season but the current regime with it. It will take time to sort everything out, to find what happened, to determine who knew what, when they did know it, and finally to make the needful corrections.

Just be careful about jumping to conclusions prematurely, as the entire Dolphins roster just reminded us by affirming strong support for the much maligned Richie Incognito, leaving the ever righteous media confused and foolish in their rush to judgment.

So let’s all take a breath here and try to sort out things as best we can.

Let’s begin with head coach Joe Philbin. Give him credit for stepping up and accepting ownership of this issue. The buck stops with him while, once again, GM Jeff Ireland hides in the shadows. Never forget that Ireland is the one who picked up these two players (and their respective baggage) and brought them to South Florida. But it doesn’t stop there as Ireland has now been accused of telling Martin’s reps that Martin should go and punch out Incognito. Then, for good measure, former Dolphins QB Sage Rosenfels tweets out what a terrible GM he is, underscoring his point with a “#jerk” hashtag.

Talk about piling on! But he’s not the only one as many former players and coaches are now weighing on what has become a case study on the NFL locker room, probably team sports in general, and the media’s ability to get the story right.

It will be up to the NFL, under Senior Vice President of Labor Law and Policy Adolpho Birch and special advisor Ted Wells, to shine light on where the mistakes were made. And then it will be up to owner Stephen Ross, the man who asked the NFL to investigate, to determine what corrective measures will be undertaken.

When it’s all said and done, Philbin, Ireland, their staffs, and even Executive Vice President for Football Operations Dawn Aponte could find their positions in serious jeopardy. This, you see, is an institutional matter and Ross’s actions reveal that he doesn’t know who to blame for this train wreck.

Or who to trust.

Again, beware of rumors and the “sources” that start them. Most of what we are hearing is either speculative or downright false.

There’s no question that Richie Incognito sent a highly inappropriate and unprofessional voice mail to Jonathan Martin seven months ago, a voice mail Martin allegedly replayed in the locker room and laughed about but now claims as bullying. We know that an oft-repeated prank was played on Martin in the Dolphin team cafeteria, a prank that he himself had played on others. Was it that very prank that sent Martin over the edge and out of the building? Or, was it something much deeper?

Martin’s reaction caught the Dolphins off guard. For those who have had the privilege of being in an NFL locker room, whether as a player or as a coach, equipment manager, or trainer, they know there is a code of conduct that is a sacred trust. Martin clearly violated that trust when he went public with his concerns, versus handling them “in house”. This is why I believe he is unlikely to ever wear a Dolphins uniform again and may never be fully accepted in another team’s locker room. His pro career may very well be over.

The real mystery here, however, is Incognito. Again, players assert he is being made a scapegoat, unfairly labeled a racist and a bigot. It has been reported that Incognito is unlikely to return to the team, which may or may not be true; it is up to the NFL to determine his culpability. But one thing is very clear: there can be no justification for his use of such offensive language, even as a joke. What he said to Martin, even in jest, is neither acceptable nor representative of what a Miami Dolphin should be.

That being said, in the times I have interviewed him, twice last year alone, he came across as a man who had gained self-awareness of his troubled past and had worked very hard over the past four years to re-make himself. That effort was rewarded last season with a Pro Bowl berth, and recognition from the local media for being accessible and professional.

“I think consistency is the key”, Incognito told me last year, in response to a question I asked him about his transformation as a player and getting to the next level in his career. “That’s been my tag line or credo in moving forward and making the transformation from St Louis to (Miami). (It’s) showing up and being a professional every day, showing up in the weight room, showing up on the practice field, showing up on Sundays.”

This is the Incognito we had become accustomed to in South Florida these past four seasons, the guy we wanted on our side, in the trenches, and why we are shocked to see this whole unfortunate business come to pass.  

So who to blame? I believe the root of the whole problem is a lack of leadership, amongst the coaches and personnel people. How could Philbin and Ireland not have a sense of the trouble brewing with Martin? And, if they did, why didn’t they act?

Rest assured, we will get to the truth in due course. It is a good thing the NFL is handling the investigation, a smart move by Ross. Yet there is also a danger than things could get worse the deeper they dig, the more people that come forward to talk, and the more outside organizations try to gain from this unfortunate situation.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have eight more games to play and a playoff run to make, if they can. Can they wade through this tide of distraction and take care of the real business at hand, which is winning six of the next eight football games?

Hyde, for one, thinks this situation has made the Dolphin locker room more united than ever. He predicts a solid Dolphin win over the hapless Bucs. This may indeed come to pass, as could a happy ending to the season on the field. But the reputation of the Dolphins organization, Incognito, and Martin are already losers in the swill of this embarrassing mess.

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