Richie Incognito, NFL have serious problems
BY RICK TELANDER Staff Columnist November 4, 2013 10:59PM
In this photo from Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68) walks across the field for the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Miami Dolphins suspended Incognito late Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, for misconduct related to the treatment of teammate Jonathan Martin, who abruptly left the team a week ago to receive help for emotional issues. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Updated: November 5, 2013 11:50AM
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It strikes me as — how shall I put this? — interesting, if not plain bizarre, that in a sport where men routinely injure one another, often seriously and with full intent to do so, that the big news of the day in the NFL is . . . bullying.
Yes, it’s true.
A man named Richie Incognito, a veteran guard for the Miami Dolphins, has been suspended by the team for allegedly verbally abusing — harassing and threatening maybe is more like it — fellow lineman and teammate Jonathan Martin. Incognito reportedly did most of his nasty work in voicemails. (That’s as far as we know; there may be physical issues as well.)
Among those messages are ones in which he calls the mixed-raced Martin ‘‘a half-n-----,’’ says he wants to ‘‘[expletive] in your [expletive] mouth’’ and ‘‘slap your real mother across the face’’ and then states, ‘‘You’re still a rookie — I’ll kill you.’’
Whether that last clause is actionable, who knows? Football players threaten to ‘‘kill’’ one another afield all the time. Real killing? Not as a rule.
Indeed, it’s the fact Martin left the team after suffering some kind of mental breakdown, apparently from the obscene and violence-tinged hazing or plain hatred he was getting from Incognito — though possibly from other Dolphins as well — that shot this into the open. And the racial taunting put it over the top.
‘‘Rookies have to learn,’’ Bears offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said after the win over the Packers on Monday night. ‘‘But this went too far. It’s not good for either person. There has to be respect.’’
Remember this is a sport where players are routinely told to dominate their foes, to punish them, destroy them, annihilate them, to be hyper-aggressive at all times. Going after another player’s weakness or injury — even if it’s mental, such as a propensity to choke or lose focus — is considered good, too.
In short, moral reasoning and mature decency are in tiny supply on pro football fields.
But even for a violent, debauched sport, there are limits. There must be. And Incognito — we won’t mention the irony of his last name or that he might give anything right now to go under an assumed name — crossed over those limits. If that’s how you treat a teammate, a man who was lining up near you on the offensive line, how might you treat a foe? Incognito has been involved in fights and brawls throughout his college and pro career, getting released by the St. Louis Rams two days after getting two personal fouls in the first half of a game against the Tennessee Titans.
Hazing and bullying are for, well, bullies. And bullies are cowards. So Incognito is a coward.
But, again, is there any sport anywhere where bullies are more coveted than in the NFL? Or is there a league where more of the constituents have more mental issues or, as we now know, dangerous head trauma? Is there a connection between the immature behavior and the head blows?
Incognito will be dealt with swiftly and probably forever. He’s unlikely to get back on the Dolphins or any NFL team after this.
Yet, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper has not only come back from his Internet-touted racial epithets, he starred last Sunday with a three-touchdown game against the Oakland Raiders.
The NFL is proud to have everybody in its embrace wear pink all October, to show solidarity in the fight against breast cancer. But when the Bears’ Brandon Marshall wears green shoes to show his support for cures to mental illness — from which he suffers — he gets fined thousands of dollars by the NFL.
You think some players don’t need help?
Their job description alone is crazy. To be sane and excel at hurting others — and be badly wounded yourself in the process — is a chore.
It’s also telling that former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and former New England Patriots personnel chief Scott Pioli both said that their teams had ‘‘DNDC’’ (do not draft due to character) marks against Incognito in 2005, when he was coming out of school. Anybody find dark humor in the fact the Patriots had no problem drafting accused murderer Aaron Hernandez in 2010, or that the Kansas City Chiefs took bad guy Larry Johnson in the first round in 2003?
If you can put a licking on the other team, that’s good. Things like suicides (Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, etc.) are problems for somebody else.
Incognito has problems. Serious ones.
You wonder if help is coming, unemployment or worse.