Who knows exactly what went on in the Miami Dolphins locker room?
It might be bullying. It might be hazing. It might be racism. It might be standard operating procedure in the NFL, gone more than a little bit wrong.
Or it might be the story of a man who, when introduced to what life in the NFL can sometimes be like, decided he didn't want to be a part of that world anymore, and went out in a blaze of glory.
After we finally heard from some of the people who actually might know best about the alleged problems – the players who were witnesses to the relationship between offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin – we know something we didn't know the day before:
We can't be as sure this story is as cut and dried as we might have thought when it began.
In fact, there's only one thing we can know for sure, and it's this: We have almost no idea what happened, and might not know for weeks.
COLUMNIST: No defending Incognito's racial slurs
When the national news media got ahold of the trouble in Miami earlier this week, the story seemed outrageous, just tailor-made for scandal. A veteran prone to temper tantrums and racist taunts had bullied a younger player to the point that he walked away from the team. Coaches had encouraged the fiery veteran to toughen up the softer, cerebral, emotional fellow. The general manager said a punch in the nose might settle everything.
It all sounded so awful, from the top of the Dolphins organization on down, that it seemed to be another in a series of high-profile indictments of the NFL: Bountygate, player deaths, concussions, the racist Washington team nickname – and now this.
Not surprisingly, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn't take long to open an investigation into the Dolphins' workplace issues.
If a league-wide anti-hazing policy comes from this, and it should, the NFL will be the better for it. If the NFL ends up fining or suspending Dolphins coaches for what they knew or didn't know, or the general manager who allegedly suggested that Martin fight back by punching Incognito, the Dolphins will be the better for it.
As for the two players at the center of this drama, their careers both could be over, and that, too, might be the right result. Incognito apparently has great spirit and energy, but he also appears to be an all-pro troublemaker who seems to think it's just fine to use the 'n-word.' He's certainly not the only person in the sports world to use that awful term, but if that's really him on that voicemail saying it, Goodell should throw the proverbial book at him.
Other issues might not be so easy to adjudicate. The NFL workplace is different from most. It's the locker room. Any sports journalist who has been in that workplace knows all about how unusual it is. We've all heard things we would never hear anywhere else. We've been insulted, teased, yelled at, you name it.
It's almost always worse if you happen to be a woman. I knew that going in, yet, for years, I willingly joined hundreds of my colleagues, men and women, in the locker rooms of NFL teams – and other leagues as well – simply because it was the place we did our jobs.
Meanwhile, this story, as juicy as it is, is overshadowing NFL news that is potentially far more important: ESPN's reporting that Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett is one of three well-known NFL veterans who have been diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated concussions. Once the soap opera in Miami is cleared up, the concussion story will remain, sadly building all over again.
But for now, we are focused on the Dolphins' problems, and that's not so bad. The topic of bullying is an important conversation for the NFL to be engaged in, even if it has been dragged into it, and even if we end up finding out that it wasn't bullying at all.