At first glance, the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal might seem to be just another pinprick in the reputation of a league that had 47 players arrested for crimes ranging from drunken driving to murder in the last off-season alone. But the harassment of a young biracial teammate by a white veteran, replete with slurs, threats, and perhaps even extortion, is shocking in a different way: No previous NFL scandal showed a pro team providing such a negative role model for college and high-school teams struggling with hazing. The harassment of Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin was almost certainly known to some teammates and part of a larger pattern of targeting new players — a situation that implicates the internal culture of the team, and possibly the league.
The accused perpetrator is the 30-year-old guard Richie Incognito, and the National Football League, which is launching an investigation, should be clear that the charges are serious enough to merit a lifetime ban from football. Incognito allegedly sent menacing voicemails and e-mails to Martin, a second-year teammate. They reportedly included the use of an ugly racial slur and vows to “kill you.” Under intense duress, Martin left the team, which Dolphins management initially suggested was the result of stress and illness. After Martin’s agent supplied copies of the voicemails and e-mails, the Dolphins suspended Incognito.