The Clinton Herald
---- — ‘My actions were coming from a place of love.”
So said Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, all 320 cuddly pounds, about his racist, profane and threatening behavior toward teammate Jonathan Martin.
Loving would not be the first adjective that comes to mind about Incognito’s voice mails and texts. Reports of the goings-on in the Dolphins locker room give new meaning to the phrase offensive line.
As in calling Martin a “half-[N-word] piece of [excrement].” Detailing plans to eliminate bodily wastes “in your [expletive deleted] mouth” and “slap your real mother across the face.” Announcing, “[Expletive deleted] you, you’re still a rookie, I’ll kill you.”
If that’s a place of love, you’ve got to wonder what Incognito says when he doesn’t like you. “No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that’s how we communicate, that’s how our friendship was,” Incognito told Fox Sports.
Let me stipulate: Sports is not my strong point. Football is not my forte. My experience with team sports is limited to a single inglorious high-school season playing junior varsity field hockey.
Certain people (read: a certain husband) have suggested that I’d therefore be foolish to weigh in. It’s impossible to comprehend this story, this argument goes, without understanding something about raunchy locker room culture in general and the revved-up aggression of professional football in particular.
To which my answer is: precisely. This behavior is incomprehensible. And the notion that it is some inherent, essential aspect of the ethos of sports or football to have people treating (or mistreating) one another this way is repulsive to fans and insulting to athletes.
Yes, football is a violent sport. It involves astonishingly large men deliberately inflicting pain on one another — authorized, highly compensated barbarism. It must be hard to flick an on-off switch to modulate that brutality.
Yes, boys (even 300-pound boys) will be boys, and male team bonding tends to involve juvenile displays of chest-thumping and jockeying for dominance over newbies. (On my daughter’s soccer team, they braided one another’s hair.)
And, yes, precisely what transpired between Incognito and Martin remains fuzzy, including whether Martin matched Incognito coarseness-for-coarseness and whether he ever gave Incognito reason to believe that the traditional rookie hazing had gone too far.
Incognito asserted that Martin texted him threatening “to kill your whole [expletive deleted] family.” Even after Martin left the team, Incognito said, he sent friendly texts. “It’s insane bro but just know I don’t blame you guys at all it’s just the culture around football and the locker room got to me a little,” read a text from Martin to Incognito.
It’s impossible to judge the conflicting accounts without considering Incognito’s long trail of misbehavior on and off the field. In football, Incognito’s conduct may have held him back; in any other line of work, it would have ended his career.
At the University of Nebraska, he was ejected from a game for throwing punches at one player, accused of spitting on another, and suspended for fighting in practice. A 2009 poll of NFL players by the Sporting News named Incognito the league’s dirtiest player.
“I’ve been a cancer in locker rooms in my past,” Incognito acknowledged to Fox, while asserting he had changed.
Incognito’s conduct is disturbing, but the reaction of Dolphins’ management and teammates may be more so.
Team officials were on notice that his bad boy days were not over: WPLG-ABC in Miami reported that the team investigated last year after a volunteer at the team’s annual golf tournament filed a police complaint alleging that Incognito “used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest.”
Pro Football Talk reported that after Martin left the team and his agent reported Incognito’s mistreatment, Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland suggested that Martin should just “punch” back. Nice problem-solving there. And the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported that Incognito’s actions occurred after Dolphins coaches officials urged him to “toughen up” Martin, a classics major at Stanford.
Meanwhile, teammates seem inclined to side with Incognito.
“I don’t feel like anybody was being bullied or hazed,” wide receiver Mike Wallace told the Miami Herald. “It’s just part of the game of football.”
Defensive end Cam Wake described Martin’s experience as a “rite of passage,” adding, “You have to pay your dues to get certain privileges. Everybody I know has done it.”
Which, if true, suggests that football has a bigger problem than Richie Incognito.
Ruth Marcus’ email address is email@example.com.