Anyone who follows sports has probably heard about the situation in Miami, where second-year player Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team last week after smashing his lunch tray to the floor in response to a prank played on him by his teammates, an effort led by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito.
The prank was cruel. Martin was asked to join a table of linemen during lunch, but when he sat down they all got up and walked away.
This is not a situation that happened just by chance.
Incognito has a history of getting himself in trouble going all the way back to his first two years at Nebraska, where he is a freshman All-American in 2002. By the end of the 2003 season, he had been suspended twice, and then suspended indefinitely when new coach Bill Callahan prior to the 2004 season. Incognito then transferred to Oregon, where then-coach Mike Bellotti gave him a 2nd chance, but only if he fulfilled specific conditions. He didn't and he never played a down for Oregon.
Despite missing the entire 2004 season, the Saint Louis Rams selected him in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft. He spent three years with the Rams, all of which fairly uneventful off of the field, but on the field he led the league with 7 personal fouls included in his 38 penalties.
He was already on his way out by 2009.
Things came to a head quite literally late in the 2009 season during a 47-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Incognito was twice flagged for head-butting Titans players, and he also got into a verbal spat with then-Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that Incognito was subsequently released.While with Miami, he began taking Paxil after refusing to try medication for year. He was named to 6-man leadership team for the Dolphins this year. On the surface, things seemed to have turned around for him - he was maximizing his potential on the field on not getting in trouble off of the field. Or maybe not . . . .
Incognito caught on with the Buffalo Bills for the remainder of the season, but Buffalo decided against re-signing him even though he played well in three games with the team. It was unclear if Incognito would get another chance after the Bills let him walk, but he was lucky enough to be offered a contract by the Dolphins.
Guys who have played against him think he is a dirty player - pinching and grabbing in the pile. One Dolphin player says, "Richie is the type of guy where if he's on your team you love him," a teammate said. "If he's not on your team, you hate him. Every team needs a guy like that." His previous teammates have witnessed his issues and do not hate him, but they worry about him:
New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was Incognito's teammate at Nebraska as well as with the Rams, and he told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News that it was par for the course:
None of it shocks me. I don't know any details obviously. The league hasn't released anything. But Richie seems to be a person with a tortured soul. He's had these issues for quite awhile and it's sad.Brown still considers Incognito a friend, but he believes that his former teammate is still dealing with "demons" despite the prevailing thought that he had turned a corner:
A good deal of Incognito's behavior can be traced back to his father, it seems. In Jeff Darlington's NFL.com profile of Incognito, there is this:It's sad to see, because he was a friend of mine and still is. I played with him in college and he had a lot of problems in college. I played with him in the Rams, and not severe issues there ... but it seems like this seems to be something that has been haunting him for more than decade. This seems to be somebody who's really got some demons that are out of the building.
"I'd always tell Richie, 'You don't take no s--- from anyone,'" his father said. "'If you let anyone give you s--- now, you're going to take s--- your entire life.'"So, we are not at the present - and Incognito has been suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins and will reportedly be cut following the conclusion of the NFL investigation.
Those words may seem like nothing more than a father trying to help his son through a difficult time, but some of his advice proved all too prophetic.
"I'd try to cheer him up," said Richie Sr., who is now a custom pool builder in Arizona. "I'd tell him, 'Payback is going to come, Richie. When it's time for you to have your payback, you open up the gates of hell and make them stare at the devil.' And when that day came, man, he made them stare at the devil."
According to reports, Incognito used racial epithets and made threats of bodily harm against Martin, who was in his 2nd year before leaving the team nearly 10 days ago (Oct 28). According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, these are some quotes from the threatening email that serves as the primary piece of evidence in this case.
Adam Schefter ✔ @AdamSchefter
1: Richie Incognito left this VM for Jonathan Martin in April 2013: "Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of (expletive)...
Adam Schefter ✔ @AdamSchefter
2. More Incognito to Martin: "I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. (I want to) (expletive) in your (expl) mouth....
Adam Schefter ✔ @AdamSchefter
3. Incognito VM to Martin: "(I'm going to) slap your (expletive) mouth. (I'm going to) slap your real mother across the face (laughter).
Okay, this is where shit gets ugly. This is one incident, but there apparently have been others. Martin chose, for now at least, to walk away from his NFL career and get counseling while spending time with his family. On the upside, he went to Stanford, so he can probably do anything in life he chooses.
But his fellow teammates, former NFL players, and current NFL players are siding with Incognito - not all of them, but enough that it calls into question the atmosphere in the NFL locker rooms.
Former Dolphins teammate Karlos Dansby, now a linebacker with the Cardinals, told the Arizona Republic that “Richie was a down-to-earth guy. I hate all this came out about him. It's really attacking his character. I hope Martin doesn't have any backlash from this from the rest of his teammates.”
And Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace told NFL.com: "I know both [Martin and Incognito] personally. I like both of them. I love Richie. I think he's a great guy. I don't think he was out of hand. I have a lot of respect for Richie. I wish he was here."
Wallace says he doesn't think that team pranks and hazing went too far.
"Everybody in the NFL knows that when you're a young guy and when you're with the O-line you've got it the hardest," Knighton says. "I mean, that's been going on for a while. ... I don't know where they crossed the line at; maybe (Incognito) said something personal.This is the same nonsense I hear when people begin talking about the sexual or physical abuse or neglect that happened in their families - there is a code of silence around these things. As long as people honor these idiotic codes, they will continue to exist.
"I feel like, as players, when it is player-to-player, it can be handled as players. It can be addressed. I don't think (Martin) should have gone outside the team and expressed how things are going in the locker room."
The most egregious comments, perhaps, come from New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who voices the "traditionally masculine" - i.e., man up, sack up, grow a pair, and so on.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle said that while Incognito was "absolutely" in the wrong, Martin is just as much to blame for what happened. “First of all, know something like that would never, ever happen to myself, because I wouldn't allow it to happen," Rolle told WFAN Tuesday.
"You know, at this level, you're a man. You're not a little boy. You're not a freshman in college. You're a man. So I think everything has its limits. So there's no way that another man is gonna make me pay for something that I choose not to pay for.”Not only is that the mentality among the players, but it seems also to be the mentality among the coaching staff of the Miami Dolphins [it must be stated, however, that head coach Joe Philbin, according to team sources, directed veteran players to "cut out" the rookie hazing]:
"You're a grown-ass man. You need to stand up for yourself. ...
"Hopefully he's able to bounce back and recover from all that has happened and understand it, and take awareness of, you know, that, you're a grown-a– man,” Rolle continued. “You need to stand up for yourself.”
According to at least two team sources who have spoken to Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel, Miami Dolphins coaches told offensive guard Richie Incognito to “toughen up” teammate Jonathan Martin after Martin missed a voluntary workout in the spring. The team sources told the Sun Sentinel that Incognito, who has been suspended indefinitely after he was accused of using threatening and racially incendiary language against Martin, took the orders too far.Other reporters have confirmed these reports:
Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post wrote on Wednesday that he’s heard the same thing from team sources, adding that the idea was to bring Martin “into the circle.”Fox Sports reporter, Mike Garafalo, tweeted this:
“[Dolphins center Mike] Pouncey and Incognito, they talk to each other that way — redneck, [n-word], it doesn’t bother the two of them. It’s how they communicate,” a source told Abramson. “They bond with one another.” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, according to sources, told his veterans to “cut out” the rookie hazing, but he did not police what was going on between Incognito and Martin. Martin left the team last week after a lunchroom prank in which Martin was asked to join his linemates at the table, and his teammates then got up and left the table.
Mike GarafoloVerified account
Forgot to tweet but said on
@FFD yesterday a former Dolphins OL said coaches supported and encouraged hazing to toughen up Martin + others.
The bullying was not only verbal - there was traditional stealing of lunch money (if you are mufti-millionaire NFL player):
[Adam] Schefter and [Chris] Mortensen also cited unnamed sources that one of the significant allegations is an incident during the summer of 2013 when Incognito got Martin to contribute $15,000 to help finance a trip to Las Vegas by a group of Dolphins, even though Martin preferred not to, "fearing the consequences if he did not hand over the money."
So the message here is that if you man up and get in someone's face, the bullying will stop. But why is there bullying in the first place? Incognito knows first hand from his own childhood haw damaging that can be, but like many victims, he did not deal with the pain, he just passed it along as soon as he was able - just like his father told him to.
As is true with many things, this whole mess starts with the father. Martin is simply the latest victim to endure Incognito's working out of his own pain and trauma by harassing others - but that this was condone in ANY way by the Dolphins coaching staff makes them complicit, right alongside Richie Incognito, Sr.