You would like to think that guys like Richie Incognito, the suspended Miami Dolphins guard, are not the norm in NFL locker rooms. Certainly the NFL would like you to believe that. Former GM’s like Bill Polian (as thoughtful a general manager as the NFL ever saw) would tell you that NFL owners and GM’s are not looking for troubled players, and their certainly not looking for bully’s. But then why do so many Richie Incognito’s exist?
For those that don’t know Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin filed a grievance this week against the Dolphins and the NFL for abuse by a teammate, fellow lineman Incognito. Not all of the facts about the case have come out yet but it appears Incognito has been bullying Martin since he was drafted by the team last year. Martin was made to buy expensive dinners and gifts by Incognito who said “We’re going to get the money out of him somehow.” and was verbally abused repeatedly in texts where he called Martin a half (n-word) piece of shit, and talked about how much he was going to beat his ass.” The text that has been released (their are others by the way) is so verbally assaulting and insensitive (you can read it on ESPN.com if you like) that one wonders how much abuse has Martin taken and how long has it gone on?
The quick take by the Dolphins (at least before the text came out) was that this was an ongoing investigation and that they had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by Incognito. So we’re led to believe that Martin never talked to teammates or coaches about the abuse before filing a lawsuit. We’re led to believe other players and coaches never saw the abuse or heard about it?
Frankly I’m tired of these type’s of stories popping up. Every year it seems their are college or pro players involved in some “hazing” scandal where the team makes a players do something and everyone thinks it’s funny except maybe the guy being made to do it. When this stuff gets to the NFL I really have a problem with it because these are supposed to be grown men capable of behaving like adults. Martin is a young guy, only 23, but he has a college degree, and is paid good money at a job he wants to do. He should be allowed to come in to work and get better without some neanderthal giving him a hard time. But the truth is guys like Incognito are the norm in the NFL, and in society.
Earlier this year we saw Riley Cooper suspended by the Eagles for using the N-word at a concert and going off on one of the security guards there. Just last week Albert Hainesworth got into a war of words with his former coach Mike Shanahan over who was the bigger asshole. Dez Bryant erupted on the sideline last week when the Cowboys played the Lions because he felt he wasn’t getting the ball enough. NFL players by and large are not soft spoken, thoughtful guys. They are gladiators, abusing their bodies week in and week out for our amusement. They curse and yell and throw tantrums, and when left unchecked they run afoul of the law and put average people in harms way. Sometimes when left unchecked they even kill people. Just ask Aaron Hernandez, Ray Carruth, and Donte Stallworth. But most Gm’s don’t care so long as these guys help them win games. Why do you think so many troubled players keep getting drafted?
There will always be guys like Incognito on teams because teams in the NFL like guys like Incognito. Maybe they would prefer he tone it down some but when you need a man to move another 300 pound man off the line of scrimmage so another man can run forward a few yards what type of guy do you want? A soft spoken guy like Martin who likes to spend his downtime reading books or a loudmouth showoff like Incognito who has been disciplined more than seven times for behavior in his college and pro career. Rumors are already out that Dolphins teammates are pissed at Martin for leaking this story because now they will be without Incognito, a Pro Bowl player, for the rest of the year, probably forever.
Until the culture in the NFL changes, guys like Incognito will always be around. And sadly I don’t see that culture changing any time soon.
But while I’m on the subject I shouldn’t pile on the NFL without putting the rest of America in the same boat. Is the Martin/ Incognito story really much different than what goes on in most of our lives. Haven’t we seen too many teen suicides in the news because of bullying and “hazing” a term I have come to despise because of it’s passive acceptance of bullying? Don’t we all work jobs or participate in group activities where someone doesn’t fit in? And how often do we close ranks and keep those people out? How often do we make an effort to include people that don’t act the way we act or think the way we think?
I have been lucky enough to work jobs (especially the last couple of years) where people have gone out of their way to be friendly to me and include me, and it is no coincidence that I have thrived in those environments. But I have also worked jobs or been in groups where I was the outsider, and few people want to be associated with the outsider and so that culture becomes permanent.
It is time we as a country stop listening to the biggest, loudest, and most obnoxious among us. Being strong is a positive evolutionary trait. Being a jerk isn’t. Guys like Richie Incognito may be the norm but they don’t have to be. Next time you see a Jonathan Martin in your locker room maybe talk to him, include him a little. You just might be surprised what he has to offer.