November 6, 2013

Commentary: No disguising players like Incognito

The Miami Dolphin’s alleged treatment of a teammate goes way beyond bullying.

By Sally Jenkins
The Washington Post

The thug named Richie Incognito needs to be out of the NFL for a long time, maybe even permanently. The Miami Dolphins suspended Incognito on Sunday night, and that’s merely a good start. This guy is no mere “bully”; that’s a schoolyard word that doesn’t come close to describing the racist, menacing, strong-arm shakedown of his own teammate, Jonathan Martin.

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In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 image made from video made by WSVN-TV in Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Miami Dolphin player Richie Incognito is interviewed near his home. The troubled, troubling relationship between two Miami Dolphin linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito took an ominous turn Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 with fresh revelations: Incognito sent text messages to his teammate that were racist and threatening, two people familiar with the situation said.(AP Photo/WSVN-TV)

The Associated Press

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Imagine if you received threatening text messages from a colleague at work, hurling vile racial epithets at you along with a promise to “kill you.” What would you do? First you would call company security and then you might call the cops. But because this was the NFL, second-year player Martin thought he had to take it, otherwise he would be called soft. Finally, Martin simply walked away from the Miami Dolphins – an act that is looking more manly and dignified by the second.

Turns out the real tough guy is Martin, whose decision to rebel against a vicious culture in the Dolphins’ locker room has triggered a league-level investigation of Incognito, and, if reports are true, needs to extend to other veteran players and management as well. Let’s be clear: This isn’t about the wussifcation of football, or about some light hazing of rookies, short-sheeting their beds or shaving their heads. It’s about an image the league has been trying desperately to change in recent years, and that Incognito personifies: players as conscienceless gangsters who play a game of uncontrolled violence, with sadism and excess as byproducts.

The worst part of this for the NFL is the suggestion there is a lingering subterranean culture in which thuggery is not just tolerated but rewarded, while restraint is seen as weak.

Martin, a second-year starter out of Stanford, was for days characterized by his own management as an oversensitive victim who couldn’t take petty lunchtime bullying and had left the team with an emotional “illness.” But the Dolphins suddenly went into crisis mode Sunday, suspending Incognito and asking for a full NFL investigation.

That’s because they finally realized what they have on their hands: Couple Incognito’s threatening messages to Martin with complaints from Dolphins rookies to the Miami Herald that they were pressured to pick up tabs of $30,000 for veteran players’ binges at strip clubs, and an ESPN report that Incognito forced Martin to pay $15,000 for a trip to Las Vegas, and this doesn’t look like “hazing” anymore. It looks like extortion and intimidation.

What’s next, Incognito will feed the snitch into a cement mixer and bury him in a parking lot?

This story has sickened people across all boundaries in the league, as well it should.

Prediction: Incognito’s case won’t produce the kind of player-commissioner tension we’ve seen over other disciplinary issues. If Roger Goodell wreaks his full powers on Incognito, it’s hard to imagine anyone complaining he is too harsh. Incognito deserves due process, but the documentary evidence of his abusive threats to Martin is apparently plain and incontrovertible, and so is his past.

Fellow players annually vote him one of the dirtiest competitors in the league, an eye-gouger who has had issues on virtually every team he ever played for. He was suspended for off-field behavior at Nebraska, and in four years with the St. Louis Rams he was penalized 38 times, including seven times for unnecessary roughness, and was waived in 2009 after earning head-butting penalties and getting in a screaming match with then-coach Steve Spagnuolo. He has been fined and warned by the league that he was courting suspension. Now this.

The NFL is a hard enough profession without guys like Incognito making it harder.

(Continued on page 2)

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