As the Richie Incognito–Jonathan Martin situation continues to unfold, agents connected to each player will continue to hear from reporters who are chasing the next wave of news. And it won’t be the usual army of NFL reporters; the agents will be hearing from folks who otherwise don’t work the NFL beat.
On Thursday, ESPN’s Mark Schwarz — a non-NFL beat guy — contacted agent Rick Smith to discuss Jonathan Martin. Schwarz then reported that Smith said Martin had issues with multiple players on the team.
After Schwarz’s report appeared on ESPN, Smith denied providing that information to Schwarz on Twitter: “I have no independent knowledge of anything Mark Schwartz from ESPN attributed to myself. I’ve never heard of [Schwarz] until today.”
Smith also made it clear that he plans to stop returning phone calls from members of the media he doesn’t already know.
As we understood the situation as of Sunday, Martin’s issues relate specifically to Incognito and generally to the culture of the team’s locker room. That culture was on display Wednesday, with players unanimously supporting Incognito and openly questioning aspects of Martin’s claims, including for example the contents of the voice message from Incognito that contained a racial epithet.
On Wednesday, receiver Brian Hartline reportedly said that the players had been “ordered” not to comment on Monday, but that they decided to “defend themselves.” Hartline did an about face on Thursday, telling Jeff Darlington of NFL.com that coach Joe Philbin told the players to indeed defend themselves.
Regardless of whether the players did or didn’t defy orders from their coach, Wednesday’s comments indicate that Incognito is welcome in the team’s locker room, and that Martin may not be. And that lays the foundation for a possible claim that Martin can’t return to the team because he legitimately fears retaliation from players who view him as the reason for Incognito’s suspension and (per reports from earlier in the week) eventual termination.
“I think if you have a problem with somebody — a legitimate problem with somebody — you should say, ‘I have a problem with this,’ and stand up and be a man,” tackle Tyson Clabo said Wednesday. “I don’t think what happened is necessary. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”
While some players may not realize it, those words suggest that the red carpet remains in place for Incognito, and that Martin won’t be welcome unless he returns with his tail tucked between his legs and a clear explanation of why he did what he believed was the only thing he could do.