The questions have to be asked as the embarrassment that is the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito-locker room misconduct story mushrooms and is about to get uglier because lawyers are now involved:
What did the Dolphins know and when did they know it?
What good is professing a locker room that coach Joe Phiblin says "I believe strongly in" when that locker room can spark this kind of scandal?
What kind of leadership do the Dolphins have ... or lack?
Those are some pertinent questions that might be at the crux of so many problems the Dolphins now face. And the questions don't just apply to this one national story that has sullied the Dolphins entire franchise. These questions affect the entire team going forward.
And the answers need to be found because otherwise it calls into question why some people should remain in the club's employ.
So let's take the questions one at a time. I will post the three questions in separate posts throughout the next 24 hours. Here is the first installment:
When did coach Joe Philbin and the organization know there was an atmosphere of alleged on-going harassment among players in the locker room -- one that went beyond Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito to include veterans and rookies?
The answer to that question might determine the survivability of Philbin, general manager Jeff Ireland and some assistant coaches.
The initial and obvious suggestion from the Dolphins is they did not know of the behavior that apparently helped drive Martin to leave the team and seek emotional help last Monday, thus jump-starting a week of scrutiny that has been embarrassing on many levels.
In their first of three statements delivered Sunday, the Dolphins said they didn't know of the Martin-Incognito situation internally.
"The notion of bullying is based on speculation and has not been presented to us as a concern from Jonathan or anyone else internally," the club said.
So the team's stance as of 11 a.m. Sunday was that no one within the organization knew anything was going on between teammates.
Is that true? That will all eventually come out because Incognito plans a represented and vigorous defense of his position and that will include unveiling a lot of details the Dolphins will probably wish weren't public.
So the team that rightly suspended him for sending Martin "threatening texts" and leaving an email that used racial epithets should be bracing for a retaliatory nuclear strike.
Until that happens this space is going to operate on the assumption that Philbin & Co. were unaware of any problems.
And that leads to this question: Should they have known?
Is it part of the coaching staff's job -- not just the head coach but assistants also -- to have the pulse on the locker room? Should the Dolphins have known that rookies were being forced to pay for meals for veterans?
And should the coaching staff have known that all of this is a potential violation of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy?
The truth of the matter is the Dolphins seemed completely ignorant of the fact one of their players was allegedly tormenting another. Equally troubling is that the so-called victim in this either didn't feel comfortable enough to speak up or said something and was ignored.
(I can tell you that coaches do not live with their players. They do not and cannot know everything that happens in those players' lives. Teams get caught unawares all the time. The New England Patriots, for example, were apparently ignorant of the fact tight end Aaron Hernandez was possibly a murderer to the point they gave him a whopping new contract extension. But the difference between that situation and this is that Hernandez was allegedly conducting his misdeeds away from the team. In the locker room, he was apparently a model citizen. Meanwhile, this Dolphins issue was happening right under the coaching staff's and personnel department's eyes -- in the locker room.)
Incognito's actions, whatever they were, do not rise anywhere near the level of Hernandez's alleged crimes.
But the Dolphins out-of-touch state is every bit as complete as New England's was. Not only was Incognito considered a team leader, as his status on the team's so-called leadership council suggests, but club officials embraced him. They vehemently defended him against the early allegations of misconduct on his part.
The team trusted Incognito. When the Jake Long free agency tour was in full swing, the Dolphins called Incognito and requested he represent them and the team's interest with Long. They asked him to try and convince Long to return to the Dolphins, believing he, as Long's friend, could convince the tackle that Miami was the team for him. That is done by teams all the time. But usually the players the team picks to be their surrogates are trusted players that the organization sees as their best face.
Years ago the Dolphins used Dan Marino in this regard. During the chase for Peyton Manning, the team asked Jason Taylor for help. So Incognito was viewed by this team on that level relative to Jake Long.
The embrace of Incognito, who by his own admission and history was troubled when he arrived in South Florida, was so complete the team put him on display prior to every home game this year. That's right. The team made the video below of Incognito explaining to fans at Sun Life Stadium how to behave and be "civilized."
Is that ironic?
This shows the club fully believed Incognito to be a model citizen, to be respected and to represent the team.
If the allegations against Incognito prove true -- and you must remember the team is sufficiently convinced there is strong evidence against him to suspend him without pay -- it suggests the Dolphins were as an organization totally clueless what kind of player person they truly had in their locker room. It also proves the coaches have no idea what men in the locker room are good guys or not. Their expertise on the issue is none-existant.
All this also suggests if Joe Philbin and his coaches survive, they need to do a better job of finding out what's really going on inside the team.