NFL Nation Says: Coaches or players?

The NFL is investigating the troubled relationship between Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin, right, and Richie Incognito. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

How did the Miami Dolphins' locker room descend into a pit of apparent bullying and harassment, amid racist undertones, less than halfway through the 2013 season? Perhaps a better question is this: In this country's most primal game, what prevents such instances from happening more often?

ESPN's NFL Nation sought an answer this week as the Dolphins dealt with fallout of a seedy voicemail from lineman Richie Incognito to teammate Jonathan Martin, part of a larger story that culminated when Martin left the team last week. The consensus: Coaches maintain ultimate responsibility for the locker room, but in reality, players handle and police the interaction within.

That job falls to veteran leaders and/or captains; Incognito was considered both by the Dolphins. That twisted dynamic, said retired NFL linebacker Ben Leber, helps explain how the situation got out of hand in Miami.

"The Dolphins are a young team," said Leber, who played 10 seasons for the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. "Richie was elected a team captain, and in that situation, I wonder if many of their guys felt intimidated by him indirectly. You're not going to tell an older captain what to do. From the sounds of it, he's a hard guy to deal with anyway.

"It's almost as if their culture in the locker room assisted in Richie getting away with this. No one else his senior could step up and tell him not to do it. If you have a thug as a team captain, it's hard to tell him to cut it out."

When the season began, the Dolphins had the NFL's ninth-youngest roster. Their offense was particularly youthful, with an average age lower than all but four teams. Another retired NFL linebacker, Bart Scott, told ESPN Radio in New York that Incognito's age -- he is 30 and in his ninth season -- put him in a natural and significant position of power.

"Everybody else is younger than him," said Scott, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets over 11 seasons. "So he's kinda the guy they are looking to be a leader. And that's bad when one of your oldest guys is one of your worst guys and having to lead. ..."

Below, you'll find thoughts from active players around the NFL, all of whom were asked this question: "Who's more responsible for making sure hazing/bullying is kept under control in NFL locker room: the players or the coaches?"