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Padecky: Jerry Robinson weighs in on Dolphins locker room


With bullying in an NFL locker room all the rage these days, at least in Miami, Jerry Robinson was asked what was the most egregious incident he ever witnessed in his 13 years in the league. It took Robinson almost a second to answer.

"Tony Franklin refused to stand on a chair in the dining hall, place his right hand over his heart, his left hand over his crotch, and sing the Texas (Franklin's alma mater) fight song," Robinson said. It was 1979. Robinson and Franklin, a bare-foot placekicker, were rookies with the Eagles.

That evening at Philadelphia's training camp at Widener University in Chester, Pa., just before dinner, the rookies noticed Franklin was missing. Gosh, the veterans said, we don't know. A rookie search ensued. Franklin was found.

"He was duct-taped to a goal post, naked," Robinson said.

How long did Franklin hang like that?

"Wasn't much, maybe a couple, three hours," Robinson said.

Did Franklin get the message?

"Tony was duct-taped again a couple weeks later," said Robinson, who will turn 57 Dec. 18.

Did Robinson think a naked Franklin strapped to the yardarm was pushing the boundaries?

"It was funny," he said.

What Robinson has been reading the past few weeks, however, does not strike him as funny. The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess in Miami, that is full of surprises for Robinson. He has followed the story closely. He knows NFL teammates aren't always kind to each other. Six years with the Eagles and seven years with the Raiders showed him that.

"But the locker room is the only place we can be who we want to be," Robinson said, "and not get criticized or judged. So it's really disturbing to me to see the situation get so out of control it's become international news. This (Incognito-Martin) is an isolated thing. This is not an NFL culture thing."

True, Robinson can't speak for all NFL locker rooms. But the Dolphins situation is so far in the extreme for him, it defies comparison. Verbally drilling a man with racial epithets — to toughen him up — is something quite apart from what Robinson knows. And if it did occur ...

"We had leaders in the locker room that would have never allowed to get it as far as it has in Miami," Robinson said. "In Philly we had Bill Bergey, Ron Jaworski and Harold Carmichael; and I became one as time went on. With the Raiders we had Matt Millen, Marcus Allen, Rod Martin and Ronnie Lott.

"So this is what I want to know now: Where's the leadership in Miami?"

Robinson, a Santa Rosa resident and Cardinal Newman graduate, paused for a second to let the next sentence carry impact.

"Incognito (offensive guard, team captain) told all the offensive linemen to go to a strip club for a meeting," Robinson said.

Robinson rolled his eyes, shook his head. As if he had to say nothing more.

"Yes, you can call a meeting at a strip club," he said, "but there's no telling who you will meet, if you know what I mean. A meeting at a strip club? That's ridiculous. That's unprofessional.

"Imagine if you are an offensive lineman and you are happily married. You don't want to go to a strip club; it's not your thing. But you are ordered to go. So you go. You come home smelling like cigarettes and cheap perfume. Your wife smells all the stuff. You tell her you had a business meeting. Do you think she is going to believe you?

"Going to a strip club for a team meeting is not normal. It's abnormal. And so is Richie Incognito."

Robinson is quick to say he doesn't know the complete story of why Martin left the Dolphins. He doesn't know the flash point that pushed Martin out the door. No one does. Yet. But you don't have to be a forensic psychologist to know it's going to head south in a hurry if Richie Incognito is a team leader.

Every team Incognito has played for — either in college or the pros — has released or suspended Incognito, sometimes both. The University of Oregon cut him loose even before a single practice. He was once voted the NFL's dirtiest player. In four years with the Rams, Incognito drew 38 penalties, including seven unnecessary roughness calls. In May 2012, a female volunteer at a Dolphins charity golf tournament complained Incognito harassed and molested her.

"And they made him captain?" Robinson said. "That's like giving the prisoners the keys to San Quentin. You're not going to get my vote as team captain. Look at his rap sheet."

Incognito is white. Martin is of mixed race. Robinson, who is black, was asked what he would do if he overheard Incognito using the n-word at Martin, a racial epithet that has been documented frequently.

"I would interrupt that conversation and end it," Robinson said. "I would look at Richie and say, 'You're my brother, just like Jonathan is.' We are a family inside this locker room. We have to be because this is football. And if a family member is hurting, we need to find out why and do something about it.

"That's what so puzzles me about this. Where are the leaders on the Dolphins? Why didn't someone notice these are two starters on the offensive line who are having a problem? Why didn't someone step in?

"This is how you solve a problem between players in the NFL: You go to the team leaders. If you have true leaders on a team, the problem never leaves the locker room. The coaches never know about it. Neither does the general manager or owner. It's taken care of internally.

"If it can't, you then go to the coach. And if the coach can't stop it, you go to the general manager. If he can't stop it, you go to the owner. In my 13 years in the league, a problem never even went to the head coach. The leaders handled it."

Robinson is curious to hear Martin's explanation. Whatever happens next, Robinson said, "Some heads will have to roll." While much is still to be learned, Robinson can guarantee one result from the Miami brouhaha.

"The day this story broke," he said, "I will bet you the 31 other coaches in the NFL gathered their teams together and told their players that every problem has to stay in the locker room. It might creep up to management but it will never go public. I can guarantee you, every team in every sport.

"If there is any good that will come out of this, it's this: You will never, ever, hear this kind of story again in pro sports."

Incognito and Martin have crippled Miami's season. It is a soap opera with seemingly different characters entering into the plot daily. The most crippling impact, the way Robinson sees it, is that the Dolphins locker room is divided. Some support Incognito, others Martin.

"You must understand what that means," Robinson said. "It's fourth-and-1 at the 1. There are two ticks left on the clock. The game is in the balance. At that moment you have to be fully committed to give everything you have on the play, even if it means being carried off the field."

And at that moment, even if it's only a shade of a thought, one player can't be thinking to himself, "I don't care what my teammates say. Jonathan Martin is a big baby."

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.