Richie Incognito seems to have been headed on a downward spiral for the last few years, and he may have just bottomed out, with the latest blowup resulting in his indefinite suspension from the Dolphins.
The team should take further action against the veteran guard, though, after details have emerged about Incognito’s interactions with teammate Jonathan Martin. Martin recently felt so attacked that he left the team last week to seek medical counseling for an emotional breakdown.
The latest allegations are that Incognito sent messages to Martin that were “racist and threatening in nature” (transcription of one of those messages was compiled by Deadspin here) in the weeks leading up to Martin’s departure, and that he was pressured into contributing $15,000 toward an unofficial team trip to Las Vegas that he didn’t even go on. What purpose does forcing a veteran to finance a team trip serve aside from antagonizing them? The event that sent Martin over the edge was last week, when teammates refused to sit with him in the cafeteria when he had a cold. Martin reportedly smashed his food tray on the floor and took off.
It’s a given that most professional sports teams engage in some type of rookie hazing activities, but what doesn’t sit right with the Martin situation is the fact that he’s not a rookie. Martin is a second-year player and had started every game at offensive tackle for Miami this season before taking his leave. This is not a case of a player complaining about being forced to carry the team’s pads after practice, but it is a larger issue that should cause the Dolphins and the NFL to look at Incognito in a different light.
Incognito has a history of on- and off-field misconduct. When he was a sophomore at Nebraska, he was kicked off the team and was sent to the Menniger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., a facility that treats people with psychiatric and behavioral problems. This was after he spit on an opposing team’s player and got in physical fights with both opponents and teammates.
Incognito’s actions didn’t go unnoticed, either. Tony Dungy recently said that when he was coaching the Colts, they put Incognito into a “do not draft because of character” category. Incognito was eventually drafted by the Rams in the third round of the 2005 draft, and was released from the team after drawing two personal fouls for head-butting a player and arguing with head coach Steve Spagnuolo during the same game in 2009. After the two personal fouls, Incognito received a warning and letter from the NFL. In four years with the Rams, from 2006 to 2009, Incognito racked up 38 penalties — more than any other player during that period, and has reportedly made racially-charged remarks toward teammates during practice with the Dolphins.
The problem with Incognito’s actions is that they step well beyond the line of acceptability — even when taking into account the tough, “macho man” nature of football. There is no place in an NFL locker room for the type of racial insensitivity and aggressiveness Incognito has shown. When a player is unable to leave the physicality and threatening language on the field, he becomes a cancer to his team. It’s fair to assume that no one wants to work in that type of hostile environment.
When Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video using a racial slur at a country concert, his teammates were quick to accept his apology, saying that Cooper never spoke to teammates that way and would use it as a learning experience. They said it didn’t affect locker room chemistry at all.
Incognito seems not to have gleaned wisdom from any of his transgressions, even taunting players on Twitter after he’d instigated fights with them on the field.
The Dolphins and the NFL can’t tolerate this kind of behavior. Incognito should be cut from the team immediately and whether another team would be desperate enough to pick him up remains to be seen. There is no place in the NFL for racism or bullying.
When the most recent allegations came to light, Incognito ironically defended himself from bullying accusations by threatening ESPN reporter Adam Schefter on Twitter. It seems he’ll just never learn — and that’s why his time in the NFL should be up.