What we’re witnessing, hopefully, is the end of Biff Culture as we’ve known it. If society finally has become introspective enough in the 21st century to protect human brains on football fields, it’s also high time to address the unacceptable tripe and inappropriate behavior that often emerges from those brains. Richie Incognito — has a person ever been more inaptly named? — will be remembered as the disproportionately bloated, Tommy Boy bully who was picked on as a fat kid and exacted revenge on opponents and teammates alike in the NFL.
But at least his reign of terror has led to intelligent discourse about dumb jocks in American sports … and why they no longer should be allowed to torment teammates, harass women, mindlessly drop the N-word, spew homophobic slurs, ridicule mothers and sisters and hold meetings in strip clubs. The Incognito debacle at least has everybody thinking about the subject of bullying, a major social problem in this country, while sending a much-needed message to these locker-room doofuses that they are lower than rat turds in life’s food chain.
The end game, I believe, will result in casualties. Joe Philbin, the head coach who last week said he can’t “control” a locker room that is supposed to be his domain, likely will be dismissed by the Dolphins for enabling this mess. Jeff Ireland, the general manager who allegedly told Jonathan Martin to “punch” Incognito as a means of retaliation, can’t possibly last, either, and hasn’t helped matters by going incognito himself and refusing to speak publicly. Incognito is finished in Miami and probably done as an NFL player, with no team wanting the media attention and public backlash that would accompany his tenure. The one most likely to survive, ironically, is Martin, who will go elsewhere — perhaps to a team with fellow Stanford guys, say the 49ers (coached by Jim Harbaugh) or the Colts (quarterbacked by Andrew Luck) — and possibly even thrive as a talented offensive lineman.
As for the rest of us, we can take comfort in knowing hard lessons will be learned. The people who run sports franchises now realize they must monitor locker rooms closely, understanding that employees who get along best are most likely to win games. Players now realize they are functioning in professional corporate workplaces and that the NFL, even if football is a little boys’ game, happens to be one of the largest industries in America. Most importantly, any athlete who thinks aberrant behavior is acceptable, just because he has been coddled through life and believes he’s privileged to act however he wants and say whatever he pleases, now has received his comeuppance.
Grow up, punks.
Animal House has been shut down.
Because Martin chose to lawyer up — surely knowing that Florida law allows for triple damages if he can prove he was “intimidated or threatened” in the context of “race or color” by Incognito’s damning voice mail and other communications — Incognito has done the same. Recent days have features a back-and-forth volley of charges and countercharges, the stuff of reality TV. Martin’s bulldog lawyer, David Cornwell, revealed more abuse allegations: “Beyond the well-publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments such as the quote. These facts are not in dispute.” Per Cornwell’s statement, a teammate allegedly told Martin: “We are going to run train on your sister. . . . She loves me. I am going to (expletive) her without a condom and (expletive) in her (expletive).”
This prompted Incognito to use the Fox Sports airwaves — surely going to the competition because ESPN has been out front in detailing his transgressions — and claim that Martin used similar language toward Incognito in their back-and-forths. “When words are put in a context, I understand why a lot of eyebrows get raised,” Incognito said. “But people don’t know how Jon and I communicate to one another. For instance, a week before this went down, Jonathan Martin texted me on my phone, ‘I will murder your whole F’ing family.’ Now, do I think Jonathan Martin was going to murder my family? Not one bit. He texted me that. I didn’t think he was going to kill my family. I knew that was coming from a brother. I knew it was coming from a friend. I knew it was coming from a teammate.”
Assuming that is true — and I wouldn’t — Incognito’s allegations only will fire up Incognito supports who say Martin is embellishing the real context and eyeing a big payday. What I wanted to hear from the bully was an apology for using the N-word so liberally. Instead, Incognito continued to justify his disgusting behavior as locker-room fun. He insists he was coming “from a place of love,” though I’ve never seen such hateful discourse constitute love. “You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room who had Jon Martin’s back the absolute most, and they will undoubtedly tell you (it was me),” Incognito said. “Jon never showed signs that football was getting to him (or) the locker room was getting to him.”
Really? Then why did he reportedly go to Ireland? And why use the N-word, especially when Incognite has a long history of anger issues and baggage? “I’m not a racist, and to judge me by that one word is wrong,” Incognito said. “In no way, shape or form is it ever acceptable for me to use that word, even if it’s friend-to-friend on a voice mail. It’s thrown around a lot. It’s a word that I’ve heard Jon use a lot. It’s not saying it’s right that I did it and used it in a voice mail. But it’s a lot of colorful words that are being thrown around in a locker room that we don’t use in everyday life.”
Which is why I hope we’re seeing the end of dumb jockdom — or, shortened, jockdumb. Here is a classic bully, with years of archives detailing his episodes and emotional issues, refusing to accept accountability for his actions. Can we believe a word he says about Martin? Where is his voice mail and e-mail? Incognito claims Martin texted him four days after he left the Dolphins on Oct. 28, following a lunchroom incident when a tray was slapped out of his hands. “He texted me and said, `I don’t blame you guys, I blame some stuff in the locker room, I blame the culture, I blame what was going on around me,’ ” Incognito said. “And when all this stuff got going and swirling and bullying got attached to it and my name got attached to it, I just texted him as a friend and was like, `What’s up with this man?’ And he said, ‘It’s not coming from me. I haven’t said anything to anybody.’ ”
Someone is lying. Given Martin’s educated background — son of two Harvard graduates, classic major at Stanford, raved about by the likes of Harbaugh and Luck and other past associates at Stanford — I’ll assign him the obvious benefit of any doubt. Not only is Incognito haunted by his distant past, he was investigated as recently as last year for allegedly molesting a female volunteer at the team’s charity golf tournament. Beyond the racial elements, this is a story of classism: Martin’s upscale background juxtaposed against that of a blue-collar Jersey kid and teammates, some black, who sided with him in the locker-room warrior drama. I don’t know what’s harder to believe here: that Ireland and Philbin allowed their players to defend Incognito en masse last week, or the fact so many players actually did support a teammate whose behavior is indefensible. It makes you wonder if the front office orchestrated the Incognito Defense Camp as a way of guarding against legal threats … and potential action by the NFL, which is investigating the matter and will meet with both parties this week in southern California. You figure the meeting with Incognito won’t be at Hooters, but who knows?
“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” said Incognito, who is repped by notorious agent David Dunn. “This is an issue of my and John’s relationship. You can ask anyone in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room who had Jon Martin’s back the absolute most and they’ll undoubtedly tell you me. All this stuff coming out, it speaks to the culture of our locker room, it speaks to culture of our closeness, it speaks to the culture of our brotherhood. The racism, the bad words, that’s what I regret most, but that’s a product of the environment. That’s something that we use all the time.”
First he says he regrets it, then he still tries to defend it as “the product of the environment.” The obvious recourse is to purge such an environment so it can’t be enabled by the creepy likes of Incognito. Time was when the Dolphins were a championship team. Their coach was Don Shula. Fortunately, he has stepped forward to offer clarity for the ill-advised.
“You win with good people on and off the field,” Shula told the Miami Herald. “They took a chance on a guy with a bad reputation, and it backfired on them.”
So let’s stop defending the Richie Incognito Menace and start learning from it. Kids are being bullied in this country every hour of every day. Here’s the best chance we’ve ever had of slaying the monsters, once and for all.