The Miami Dolphins locker room had something like a code when it came to the jokes and pranks played on rookies. The guidelines were not written down, but like the rule that you don't hit your team's quarterback in practice, all the players knew them and were expected to abide by them.
According to the code, training camp was a free-for-all. You could do almost anything to a rookie in training camp. Shave his head, take his car for a joy ride, throw his clothes in the cold pool, wrap athletic tape around the lock on his locker. All of that was allowed during training camp. But once the season started, it had to stop. That was the rule.
One of the more striking aspects of the controversy swirling around Richie Incognito, the Dolphins veteran prankster, and Jonathan Martin, his frequent target, is that Incognito's treatment of Martin didn't stop. It allegedly extended into offseason training following Martin's rookie season and then into Martin's second year in Miami. When a player's rookie season ends, he is supposed to stop being a target. That is the code. But for unknown reasons, Martin wasn't allowed to advance.
"You pay your dues. You prove you can play and then you don't get joked on, don't get s--- on," says Josh Samuda, who like Martin was a Dolphins rookie offensive lineman in 2012. "But you have to prove your status."
The insinuation is that Martin did not earn the respect of his peers, specifically Incognito. "For whatever reason, Richie just kept that going into [Martin's] second season," says another rookie on the 2012 team. "Only Richie knows why he did that."
Samuda, the unnamed player and Ray Feinga, a Dolphins offensive lineman during the 2011 season who was also in training camp with Martin and Incognito in 2012, described Martin as talented and hard working. "He took his job seriously," says Feinga. "Just like Richie did."
They say that though Martin was quiet and intelligent, he didn't rub guys the wrong way, as has been reported. Yes, Martin was different, and pranksters look for something different about a guy to use against him, but Martin was far from alone in that regard.
"I probably got it worse than Jon," says Samuda. "I went to a small school [UMass], and that is tough. They picked on that."
Samuda had his car taken and driven back to the team hotel. He had his phone and wallet hidden, sometimes for an entire day. He had his head shaved. That was all during training camp. When the season started, it stopped. He and Martin had to get breakfast sandwiches for the veterans before their position group met in the mornings, they had to fetch food before flights, and they had to decorate the meeting room before Halloween and Christmas, but the real hazing stopped.
Samuda doesn't consider the much-discussed offensive linemen dinner, at which Martin had to pay a $30,000 tab at a local steakhouse, hazing. "[Martin] was the only rookie drafted, so he had to pay for the dinner. I was undrafted but on the team, so I had to pay for everyone to go out after," says Samuda. "That's how it was for every position on the team, and Jon didn't complain about it at the time."
During the 2012 season, Incognito tried to always "keep it light," Samuda says. He was constantly ribbing guys, including Martin, but Samuda says he never saw him violate the code and torment a player during the season. "I used to sit in the cafeteria and eat by myself, and Richie would come in and say, 'Hey, where your friends at?'" says Samuda. "It was that kind of stuff. That's just Richie. Richie is a clown. Everything Richie does is a joke."
There is nothing in the code against that; it is part of the indoctrination of players into the group. Bombard a rookie with small slights and jokes, and eventually he becomes immune to them. Then, he starts joking around himself, officially joining the herd. But the code doesn't account for a player who doesn't build up that immunity or who is uninterested in becoming more like Incognito.
At the end of last season, Martin reneged on a trip to Las Vegas that was a tradition among the starters on Miami's offensive line. That trip has been highlighted because of the fact that Incognito asked Martin to pay $15,000 to cover Martin's share of a private jet and other expenses that Incognito fronted. The more germane issue may be that Martin chose not to go on a bonding trip to Las Vegas with his linemates.
"I would say it was an insult to the other guys that he didn't want to go," says Samuda. "The core guys go on that trip, and as someone who started he should have gone. It stood out that he didn't go."
Samuda participated in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in April with Martin and Incognito. He and others say that OTAs are treated more like training camp and the pranking returns, though the veterans don't typically target others with the verve and glee they do in August. Samuda says he did not see Incognito torment Martin during OTAs, but it was around that time that Incognito allegedly left Martin a profane voicemail, that included the line: "F--- you, you're still a rookie."
Martin had completed a full season with the team. He was no longer a rookie. Incognito was, in a way, rewriting the code. "That's what I think I am most upset about," says the rookie on the 2012 team. "I don't think that Richie intended to be a bully. But then he messed with [Martin] even through his second year. That's not right. That's not how it is supposed to go."