Suspended Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito says teammate Jonathan Martin sent him a threatening text message as an apparent joke only a week before their relationship became the subject of a harassment case that has prompted an NFL investigation.
In an interview with Fox Sports televised Sunday, Incognito said he never took the threat seriously. Incognito said he regrets the racist and profane language he used with Martin, but said it stemmed from a culture of locker-room "brotherhood," not bullying.
"A week before this went down, Jonathan Martin texted me on my phone — 'I will murder your whole ... family,"' Incognito said, quoting Martin as using a profanity. "Now did I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit. ... I knew it was coming from a brother. I knew it was coming from a friend. I knew it was coming from a teammate. That just puts in context how we communicate with one another."
Responding to the interview, Martin's attorney tweeted the message Incognito quoted. The message was accompanied by two photos of a laughing woman holding a dog, suggesting it was intended as a joke.
"JMart's text 2 Richie Incognito. U decide....." attorney David Cornwell tweeted. That was the only response by Cornwell or Martin's agent to requests from The Associated Press for comment on Incognito's interview.
Incognito said Martin also sent him a friendly text four days after leaving the team to undergo counselling for emotional issues. The message came on the heels of the Dolphins' overtime victory against Cincinnati.
"Wassup man? The world's gone crazy lol. I'm good tho congrats on the win," Martin said in a text verified by Fox Sports. "Yeah I'm good man. It's insane bro but just know I don't blame you guys at all. It's just the culture around football and the locker room got to me a little."
Martin left the team two weeks ago, and Cornwell alleges the second-year pro was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito. Martin hasn't spoken publicly but will discuss the case late next week with a special investigator hired by the league.
"This isn't an issue about bullying," Incognito told Fox. "This is an issue of my and Jon's relationship. You can ask anyone in the Miami Dolphins' locker room who had Jon Martin's back the absolute most, and they'll undoubtedly tell you me.
"All this stuff coming out, it speaks to the culture of our locker room, it speaks to culture of our closeness, it speaks to the culture of our brotherhood."
Incognito's phone showed 1,142 text messages between the two players over the past year, Fox reported.
The network said Incognito declined to answer only one question: Did coaches order him to toughen up Martin? The NFL will investigate the role of coach Joe Philbin, his staff and Miami management in the case.
Supportive of Incognito
The Dolphins (4-4) play for the first time since Incognito was suspended when they face Tampa Bay (0-8) on Monday night.
Incognito is white and Martin is biracial. Teammates both black and white have said Incognito is not a racist, and they've been more supportive of the veteran guard than they have of Martin.
Incognito acknowledged leaving a voicemail for Martin in April in which he used a racist term, threatened to kill his teammate and threatened to slap Martin's mother.
"When I see those words come up across the screen, I'm embarrassed," said Incognito, adding that Martin used the same racist term "a lot."
"I'm embarrassed by my actions. But what I want people to know is the way Jonathan and the rest of the offensive line and our teammates communicate. It's vulgar. It's not right. ... I understand why a lot of eyebrows get raised when people don't know how Jon and I communicate to one another."
Incognito said he never sensed that football or the locker-room culture were getting to Martin.
"As his best friend on the team, that's what has me miffed — how I missed this," Incognito said. "I never saw it coming."
Long labeled one of the NFL's dirtiest players, Incognito acknowledged his reputation for out-of-bounds behaviour — and the impact the much-quoted, threatening voicemail has had on his image.
"It sounds terrible. It sounds like I'm a racist pig. It sounds like I'm a meathead. It sounds a lot of things that it's not. ... If you go just by all the knucklehead stuff I've done in the past, you're sitting in your home and thinking, 'This guy is a loose cannon. This guy is a terrible person. This guy is a racist.' That couldn't be farther from the truth."
Incognito said if he met with Martin and his family, he would apologize for anything they took as malicious.