The National Football League appointed prominent lawyer Ted Wells on Wednesday to independently investigate allegations of harassment and hazing in the Miami Dolphins' locker room, the league said.
The investigation — the results of which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said would be made public — comes as a new report claims Dolphins coaches asked guard Richie Incognito to "toughen up" offensive tackle Jonathan Martin after he missed voluntary workouts last spring.
Incognito — a hulking, 319-pound veteran with a muddy record of unnecessary roughness and dirty play who is accused of sending his teammate racist and threatening text messages and voicemails — apparently took the assignment too far, multiple sources told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Incognito's alleged orders will become part of the investigation into the Dolphins' locker room hostilities, which has upended stereotypes about workplace bullying and put team officials on the defensive.
Incognito, 30, was suspended indefinitely late Sunday — a week after Martin, 24, abruptly left the team to get help for emotional issues and later accused the Dolphins of creating an unsafe work environment.
At a news conference Wednesday, head coach Joe Philbin said he couldn't comment on the dynamic between Incognito and Martin because of Wells' investigation.
"The type of culture I have championed since the day I walked through these doors [is one of] honesty, accountability and respect," Philbin said.
"I believe in the men in our locker room and our coaching staff," he said. "I have full faith and confidence that we will stick together as a team and that we will focus on the task at hand, which is preparing for our Monday night game against Tampa Bay."
The Dolphins' starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, flatly denied Wednesday that he'd ever heard anyone order Incognito to "toughen up" Martin. In fact, Tannehill said, teammates thought Incognito and Martin were best friends.
"All of this stuff that's being thrown out, it wasn't going on in front of us," he said. "... All I know about Richie is he is a great teammate to me"
The Dolphins and the NFL have yet to specify the nature of Incognito's alleged misconduct. But two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that the embattled guard, who is white, bombarded Martin, who is biracial, with racial slurs, demeaning insults and threats.
In one voicemail left on Martin's phone, Incognito reportedly calls the team's 2012 second-round pick a "half-n-----" and adds, "I'll kill you." He also reportedly threatened to slap Martin's mother across the face.
Related: Unnecessary roughness: Dolphins coach speaks about bullying allegations
Unidentified sources told the Sun-Sentinel that the messages were left after Martin skipped two days of the Dolphins' preseason Organized Team Activity (OTA) regimen. Incognito allegedly was prodded by his coaches to make a call that would "get him into the fold," one source told the newspaper.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File
Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin looks up from the bench during the second half of an NFL game against the New England Patriots in Miami.
Wells, a senior partner at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, is one of the country's leading white-collar defense lawyers.
In 1987, he successfully defended former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan of fraud charges, and in 1998, he won an acquittal for former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in a corruption case.
More recently, Wells has taken on high-profile sports cases. Last year, Wells led his law firm's independent investigation of sexual harassment allegations against a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach, which found the allegations unfounded.
And in January, he led the firm's independent investigation of the National Basketball Association's players union, which cleared Executive Director Billy Hunter of criminal wrongdoing but slammed him for actions "inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations" to the union.
First published November 6 2013, 8:08 AM