Have we entered some sort of surreal, creepy parallel universe in the Richie Incognito debacle? How in God’s name can anybody defend the disgusting, profane, racially lathered message that he dropped like a piece of feces into the voice mailbox of Jonathan Martin? Worse, how can African-American teammates — who must have ditched class the day the Black Studies teacher discussed Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks — actually profess love for Incognito after his racist rant, viewing a puffed-out white kid from Jersey as “an honorary black man” who was considered more black in the Miami Dolphins social circle than the biracial linemate he has harassed the last two seasons?
In a civilized world, poise and inner strength define a man. In the warped “brotherhood” of the Dolphins’ locker room, you are a man if you are a s—talking bully and carry yourself as a thug, and you are soft if you don’t stand up to the bully because you happen to be well-educated, non-confrontational and don’t stoop to low lifes. As if orchestrated by Incognito himself, his now-former teammates united as one to support him Wednesday, trying to paint the perpetrator as the victim and the victim as a wimp.
If there was such a thing as a national vomit bag, we’d all be reaching for it today.
“I think if you have a problem with somebody — a legitimate problem with somebody — you should say, `I have a problem with this,’ and stand up and be a man,” Dolphins offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said. “I don’t think what happened is necessary. I don’t know why he’s doing this, and the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.”
Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because Martin didn’t like pushing a button on his phone and hearing this last April: “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.” And that, I remind you, is just one of several voice-mail, e-mail and text communications from Incognito that carry the same savage, threatening, demeaning tone toward Martin.
Rather than act like mature adults and recognize there is no defense for Incognito, Dolphins players sounded brainwashed while insisting Martin is the bad apple in a twisted tale of locker-room culture gone amok. I’m shocked there weren’t 20 players in the trainer’s room after their media session, seeing how many of them pulled muscles in stretching far beyond the bounds of reasonable logic and civilized human behavior. They claim such a diatribe is part of the team’s inner modus operandi, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill — who has been sacked an NFL-high 35 times and committed 14 turnovers this season, perhaps in part because two of his linemen don’t get along — actually saying, “If you asked Jonathan Martin who his best friend is on this team two weeks ago, he’d say Richie Incognito.”
“Richie said, `Jonathan is like my little brother,’ ” Tannehill went on, referring to a recent chat. “I think that’s an accurate depiction. He gave him a hard time. He messed with him. But he was the first one there to have his back in any situation. The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there. When they wanted to hang out outside of football, who was together? Richie and Jonathan.”
Said wide receiver Brian Hartline, sounding like a crackpot defense attorney: “I never thought it was a death threat. I never thought he was actually going to do the things he said. If you can’t take validity from one part of the voice mail, how do you take validity from the whole voice mail? You can’t pick and choose what parts count and which parts don’t count. … The people who can hurt you the most in this world are the people closest to you. When you mistake one for the other, that’s when you find problems.”
You had this from guard John Jerry: “I would have just laughed (the voice mail) off. I know the type of person he is, and I know he doesn’t mean it that way. Everybody’s got friends that when you’re out, they say those type of things. It’s never made a big deal.”
You had this from cornerback Will Davis: “Everyone loves him. Richie is a funny guy.”
You had this from offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie: “The only person who got (punished) was Richie. The other guy, that was his option. He had a choice what he wanted to do. Richie didn’t really have a choice.”
You had this from wide receiver Mike Wallace: “I love Richie. I think he’s a great guy. He’s an intense guy. Everybody knows that. I think he was just being Richie. I love playing with Richie. I wish he was here right now.”
You had center Mike Pouncey, telling ESPN’s Cris Carter in an interview — Carter is supposed to be an analyst and shouldn’t come off as a Richie apologist, as he did — that he “loves” Incognito and doesn’t view him as a racist.
You had this from offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: “He was a hard worker. He came out here every day and worked hard. He worked extremely, extremely hard and did what I asked.”
And you had this from Tannehill: “Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes. But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room, and he was the best teammate that I could ask for.”
The. Best. Teammate. He. Could. Ask. For.
What am I missing here? The disconnect is wider than the Grand Canyon. For proper perspective, here’s Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, in his 16th season: “Obviously, it shows racism, bigotry, to leave a voice mail like that. He probably said that to the guy’s face. He was very bold. … That wasn’t hazing. That was flat bullying. … That right there was beyond the scope of anything I’ve seen.”
In his supporters’ minds, Incognito was a locker-room comic who gained traction and cred from his pranks. But just like the fifth-grade classroom, it’s not healthy when the humor comes at another’s expense. Nor is it fun when veterans such as Incognito extort large sums of money from young players, apparently another league-wide issue for Roger Goodell. No one cared about Martin as the abuse was fired at him, and, shockingly, no one in the locker room seems to care about him now, even after news that he checked into a South Florida hospital and was treated for emotional issues upon leaving the team last week. That no one showed the least bit of compassion for Martin as he considered quitting football — with Incognito and others ramping up the bullying rather than leaving him alone and trying to help — is nothing short of appalling. The head coach of this operation, Joe Philbin, should be ashamed. It’s of no consequence that he keeps saying Martin never told him about the episodes before last week; as the coach, Philbin always should have a pulse on the locker room, and if he’s so blind to miss a problem this large, he’s unfit to be in his position. And if he knew about the hazing and encouraged it? Fire him, now. Same goes for offensive line coach Jim Turner, a first-year Dolphins assistant who once was an infantry officer in the Marine Corps.
They felt Martin needed to be “toughened up” and asked Incognito to help. Really? You’re asking a career brute with an anger-management problem to bring out the physicality in a player who isn’t sure he likes playing football and majored in classics at Stanford? They handed prime material to the class clown, and Incognito turned Martin into his regular chewtoy for everyone’s amusement. It doesn’t matter that others were teased, too, that the cafeteria prank prompting Martin’s departure was something pulled on other players. If Martin thought a prank was abuse, and he was bothered by it, they should have been sensitive to it and left him alone. Instead, they went for the kill, treating him like raw meat waiting to be devoured. In a society where bullying victims commit suicide, we should be relieved Martin went to the hospital and is said to be doing well, if not nearly ready to return to the Dolphins even if Incognito is long gone.
The root of the problem is classism. Martin grew up in a well-off family, went to prep school in Los Angeles and has parents who are Harvard graduates, including a mother who is a lawyer (and surely knows that her son has a strong legal case against Incognito if he wants to sue). Incognito can’t relate, nor can the black players who have rallied around him. Vic Eumont, Martin’s coach at the private Harvard-Westlake School, put it best when he told the Palm Beach Post: “Before, he wasn’t around Nebraska, LSU kind of guys. He’s always been around Stanford, Duke, Rice kind of players. In locker rooms full of Nebraska, LSU, Southern Cal players, Miami players — they’ll look at this as a weakness.” In this locker room, respect is won by carrying oneself as a bad ass, and Martin is far short of that. When he is taunted and pranked and doesn’t fight back, the lingering perception is that he’s shy in the manhood department. As New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle told WFAN in New York: “I think the other guy is just as much to blame as Richie, because he allowed it to happen. At this level, you’re a man. You’re not a little boy. You’re not a freshman in college. You’re a man.”
Rolle isn’t a man. Incognito isn’t a man. Their mentality is to intimidate in the workplace, and that, friends, is against the law and against the grain of where society should be headed in the 21st century. This isn’t to say sports teams can’t have fun and act like little boys; the Boston Red Sox just won a World Series by growing ZZ Top beards and yanking on them hard after home runs. But I can’t help but notice the difference between the perpetually mediocre Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts, who quickly have rebounded in the post-Peyton Manning era with a locker room of quality young leaders. Like the Red Sox, who dedicated their season to Boston after the Marathon bombings, the Colts have played for a larger cause: their coach, Chuck Pagano, successfully battled leukemia last season. How curious that two of the team’s leaders are Martin’s former Stanford teammates, quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Coby Fleener. Think Martin might be having a lot more success and fun in that environment?
“I love Jon like a brother,” Luck said, per the Associated Press. “We had a lot of fun — a lot of good times — together at Stanford. It’s obviously an incredibly unfortunate situation. But out of respect for him and what’s going on, I’d rather not talk about it.”
When a media member suggested to Fleener that Martin was a soft player, he grew annoyed. “That’s a stupid statement,” he said. “I would dispute that and I’d debate anyone on that. He’s a stand-up guy, an awesome character guy.”
Also defending Martin’s character was Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, another former Stanford teammate of Martin. Ertz spoke to his friend on the phone two days ago and said he’s upbeat and planning on returning to the NFL at some point. “For people to kind of throw out that he’s soft for doing what he did I think is completely wrong,” Ertz said. “What do people want him to do, go fight him? I don’t think that’s going to solve anything. I think he did what he had to do.”
Said Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin, another Stanford teammate of Martin, per the AP: “For anybody to say he can’t handle it is really disappointing to me and it’s disappointing that our society even has to question it. It’s pathetic to me. We need to look at these things logically and with common sense. What option did he have? He could have fought Incognito. He could have told on the guys involved, which we know doesn’t go over well in a football locker room, or he could have removed himself from the situation, which he did. I think he made the right decision. I’ve talked to (Martin). I reached out to him just to make sure he was OK. I just wanted him to now I was here for him.”
It’s easy to spot the educated players here.
And the uneducated.
The commissioner finally woke up from his four-day slumber. Goodell hired a New York attorney to head the investigation in Miami, but we’re still awaiting an official NFL statement — in a league watched by legions of impressionable teens and kids — that bullying is a major social issue in America and won’t be tolerated in an image-tattered league. We also heard from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who said in a statement: “We look forward to fully cooperating with the review. We take this situation seriously. As the owner, I am committed to creating a professional environment for all of the members of the Dolphins family. Once the review is completed and I have all of the facts, we will respond accordingly.”
The response should be as follows:
1. Officially release Incognito.
2. Eradicate the current locker-room mentality and get rid of anybody who balks.
3. Hire a coach who never would have let this happen.
4. Invite Jonathan Martin back with open arms.
Good luck with all that.
“We have a system of basically it’s just a big joke, basically,” Clabo said. “It helps camaraderie. It keeps things light in the room. Everyone participates. No one is exempt and so I don’t see how … we would all be guilty of bullying.”
Instead of wasting more time commenting on hopeless people, I’ll leave you with this:
“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.”