Right Field

The Richie Incognito Incident

Richie Incognito, a starting guard for the Miami Dolphins, has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team” after racially insensitive text messages and voice mails surfaced from Incognito to Dolphins’ rookie offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. ESPN has some examples:

“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s— in your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your f—ing mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

This is raising the larger question of hazing in the NFL and of how far is too far.

On the one side of the specturm, there’s this column by former rap star Luther Campbell who thinks Martin should have just stood up for himself, becasue an NFL lockerroom is like prison:

The problem with Martin is that he didn’t stand up to Icognito, who it seems didn’t think his teammate had been hazed enough. At some point you have to man up in a football locker room. You are in a situation where dudes are walking around looking at each other’s nether regions to see who has the biggest cock and biggest set of nuts.

It’s like prison. There is alaways some dude who is going to try another guy who appears weak. Now, everybody — from the sports pundits to the Dolphins front office — are saying the politically correct thing: that Incognito was wrong. This is what happens when the nice guys go get their lawyers or their agents involved.

And on the other end, here are the editors of the Arizona Republic calling Incognito’s behavior “extorition” because of reports of “financial hazing,” where rookies pick up the tab for expensive dinners attended by veteran players.

Here’s the take from the NFL player’s union. Note that they were ready to stay neutral until the racist nature of the messages came to light:

The NFL Players Association said Tuesday that it “will insist on a fair investigation for all involved” in the Miami Dolphins harassment case.

The league is investigating the troubled relationship between Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. Martin left the team last week because of emotional issues, and Incognito was suspended indefinitely Sunday by coach Joe Philbin for his treatment of Martin.

“We expect that the NFL and its clubs create a safe and professional workplace for all players, and that owners, executives, coaches and players should set the best standards and examples,” the union said in a statement. “It is the duty of this union to hold the clubs . . . accountable for safety and professionalism in the workplace. . . . We will continue to remain in contact with the impacted players, their representatives and player leadership.”

The union previously said that it wouldn’t be launching an investigation into the matter, reports CBSSports.com, but that was before racially charged voicemails and texts leaked out into the public and before Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins.

So financial hazing is okay, as long as it’s not racist?

Brent Schrotenboer from USA Today notes this isn’t the first incident for Incognito:

So how is [Incognito] still employed in the NFL?

One word: Talent. In football, mean streaks can be assets as long as they stay under control. But that has always been the issue for Incognito: Can he control it this time after not being able to control it previously?

The answer — again — appears to be no. Since his freshman year at Nebraska, all of his college and pro teams have ended up suspending him, cutting ties with him or both.

This time, the NFL is investigating voice and text messages sent by Incognito to Martin. Some reportedly contain a racial slur and vulgar threats.

There’s a pattern at work here, much of which resembles an old stereotype: The privileged jock who likes to make life miserable for opponents and easy targets. Indeed, a sign in Incognito’s locker boasted, “There are two things Richie Incognito does not like: taxes and rookies.” But it’s more complicated.

In previous interviews with reporters, Incognito and his father indicated other students ridiculed him for being overweight as a child, especially during sixth grade in Glendale, Ariz. His father, Richie Sr., a Vietnam veteran, told NFL.com that he gave his son advice: “If you let anyone give you (expletive) now, you’re going to take (expletive) your entire life.”

It’s more than “talent.” There’s a feeling in Dolphins’ locker room that what Incognito did wasn’t that bad. Via the Miami Herald:

Many Dolphins players had only good things to say about Incognito.

“I love Richie, man,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “I personally think he’s a great guy.”

A source within the extended Miami Dolphins family told the Miami Herald that, by and large, the team is more in Incognito’s corner than Martin’s.

Not long after Martin stormed out of the team’s training complex Oct. 28, the source continued, he reached out to all of the Dolphins’ linemen via text message. The gist of the message was that Martin would be away for a while, but would come back better.

When Martin formally took his concerns to team management, the players felt he broke an unwritten rule, the source said.

And players were far more understanding of Incognito’s vile string of messages than was the outside world, the source continued.

Many of the players don’t see it as a bullying issue, the source said.

It seems clear that this hazing or bullying or joking around or whatever you want to call it was detrimental to the team. It wasn’t obvious to any of the coaches that they had a player adversely affected by it before he stormed out of practice? Because that’s their position. Again, from the Miami Herald piece linked to above:

Philbin said he was first made aware of a situation after Martin left the team following a prank gone wrong on Oct. 28.

He said he was in touch with both Martin and his parents throughout the following week, but “in all my discussions with Jonathan and his family, at no time were there any accusations or allegations of misconduct by any members of this team or this organization.”

It appears that the news media were ahead of the team on the issue. News first broke Thursday night that Martin may have been the victim of bullying.

Like the president, the coaches and ownership read about Martin’s problems in the media.

In any event, the Dolphins punted this over to the NFL, which will be investigating the incident, and it looks like the Dolphins are more than happy to let the NFL decide what to do. Updates to follow.

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