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Cowardice as Culture: Richie Incognito’s NFL and the Adulation of Brutality

| November 10, 2013

Richie Incognito, a lout enabled.

Richie Incognito, a lout enabled.

I’ve never met Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, but I feel as though I know him. Martin is the 300-pound lineman who abruptly left his team, citing a pattern of harassment and intimidation by his teammate and fellow lineman Richie Incognito. Incognito, caught on text messages and in a video tossing around the word “nigger,” has been suspended by the team, but his locker-room buddies are rallying to his defense, claiming that his aggressive hazing of Martin is standard procedure in the NFL, and that Martin is just too soft—even though he has started every game for Miami since being drafted in 2012.

Much has been made of Martin’s background versus that of Incognito. Martin is an African American who played for Stanford–though he has not yet graduated—and the son of two Harvard graduates. Incognito is a brawler who was booted off the team at Nebraska for unspecified rules violations, and, according to USA Today, lasted exactly a week at Oregon before being shown the door. According to USA Today, he was expected to complete an anger-management course at Oregon. Incognito succeeded in making a name for himself as a hyper-aggressive, violent bruiser—exactly the kind of athlete coveted by NFL teams. He was subsequently anointed as the NFL’s dirtiest player for his behavior on the field.

Off the field, he was known as a hard-drinking partier who, according to a report in the Miami website, molested a woman volunteer at a Dolphins golf outing. A police report filed by the woman stated that “Mr. Incognito had been drinking and was acting very inappropriate towards her. [The woman] states that Mr. Incognito used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. He then used the club to knock a pair of sunglasses off the top of her head. After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying ‘Let it rain, Let it Rain!’ He finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face.”

If you or I behaved that way at the company picnic we’d be out of a job. But in the NFL this sort of thing gets “taken care of”—the woman signed a confidentiality agreement, suggesting that either Incognito, the Dolphins or both paid her handsomely not to pursue charges against the lout. Somehow, Incognito, who is 30, was allowed to rampage through the league unimpeded by coaches, team officials or league executives until he finally had one encounter too many with Jonathan Martin.

As an editor at Sports Illustrated in the ’80s and ’90s, I handled a number of stories in which a football player decided to unburden himself of wrongdoing in his sport. I have vivid memories of one young man, an offensive tackle at a major football program. He and his father had come to my office to talk about his doing a first-person story about his and his teammates’ steroid use, which was encouraged and facilitated by coaches. It was a hot summer day in New York, but my office was comfortably air-conditioned. Even so, the young man was drenched in sweat, his white polo shirt stretched to its limits across a grotesquely-muscled 270-pound frame.

A couple of years later, another player, from one of college football’s legendary programs, 6-feet, 7-inches tall and the brother of an NFL lineman, paid a similar visit to my office with a story to tell. In spite of his imposing size, like the young man before him, there was something gentle, almost fragile, in his demeanor. Like Jonathan Martin, these two players were classic whistle-blowers—occupants of a world they could no longer defend.

Most people who find themselves absorbed into a culture with time-honored traditions, no matter how ugly those traditions may be—college fraternities, sports teams, corporate sales staffs—know that to get ahead means going along, with a smile on your face. Those who can’t go along and who blow the whistle on hazing or sexual harassment are the sensitive ones, the ones whose notions of right and wrong are fixed at an early age. And we call them misfits–teammates who can’t seem to be team players, athletes who, when a coach or a veteran player says “Do it!” are inclined to ask “Why?”

Martin, a smart, sensitive man, undoubtedly formed that question on his lips from the moment he encountered Richie Incognito and the Dolphins’ “system.”  It just took him a while to blow the whistle. Those who step forward to reveal ugly truths are always derided as somehow “different.” They may indeed be, but where would we be without them?

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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21 Responses for “Cowardice as Culture: Richie Incognito’s NFL and the Adulation of Brutality”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    We are hypocrites, indeed, if we mouth sanctimonious condemnations of bullying to our kids in school and tolerate (even reward) this type of behavior in organized sports. These players are paid a lot of money and they have a responsibility, not only to the team they play for, but to serve as role models for the young people who look up to them. Incognito should be made accountable for his actions and his behavior. We don’t want to give our kids the impression that this is what sports (and life ) is all about. And it wouldn’t hurt to test Mr. Incognito for Steroid use. His health, and that of the people around him, could be at stake.

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    As a die-hard Steelers fan and having just finished “Their Lifes Work, the Brotherhood of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ’70’s”, (Great Book, Preview @ I previously may have tried to defend this wannabe’ macho asswipe. But after reading what real teamates did and continue to do for each other, his bullying is so far from the norm it’s revoltinmg. And when even a loudmouthed bully like Warren Sapp says that playing across from Ritchie Boy was offensive to even his delicate ensibilities, the man is a Giant Douche.

  3. w.ryan says:

    Interesting that we want these athletes to be fierce competitors in a violent sport but yet they must be Teddy Bears and role models off the gridiron. There are other issues larger than the bullying in the locker room and on the field. Dissecting this even further, the race issue within the race and the rudimentary and systematic bullying in our society by our hierarchy and the abuse we suffer by their pen and pressures. Many of our young black athletes come from tough socio-economic and politically malnourished situations. Sports is a salvation. Martin was fortunate in that his origins is from a modest upbringing were toughness was on he same level as intellect. He manned up! Our society permits the bullying by cops in stop question and frisk and other forms of suppressive abuse. It’s no wonder why Incognito and the black players that dub him “honorary black” are in the dark.

    • Genie says:

      @ w.ryan — The other players are not in the dark, they’re covering for him.

      • w.ryan says:

        Listening to Michael Irving on The NFL Network gave me hope that people do understand the true nature of this situation. He called for those Black players that call Incognito an “honorary” black man and giving the license for him to use the “N” word to come out and show themselves. Whether to stay in favor with the institution or face the wrath of those Martin like intellectual African Americans.

  4. Words says:

    Sticks and stones wil break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Both men need to shake hands and get back to work.

  5. Outsider says:

    Steroids? Really? Just because he has anger management issues and a neck bigger than both of my thighs put together doesn’t mean he’s on steroids. Seriously, this is why I don’t really pay attention to sports. Whether it’s this guy, or the guy that shot his friend or the ones who do cocaine or the others that jump into the stands to punch inebriated, insulting fans, I think they just get too much attention and too much money.

  6. rhweir says:

    Incognito a bully, a thug and a racist. Not a whole lot to like there. Ban him from the NFL for life.

  7. m&m says:

    Incognito is a thug and Martin is a wimp. Both deserve each other and Miami should take a good look who hired the thug in the first place..

  8. Geezer says:

    A story of two dummies……

    Maybe Incognito he should go “incognito” for a spell.

    Assholes like this guy don’t realize that when you terrorize enough people,
    one of them may punch your clock permanently. Even if he does choose
    his victims carefully…..

    Bullies are marked men in my opinion.

    Jonathan Martin should have dealt with this differently, instead of crying about it
    and leaving the team. He should have punched Incognito in the nose.
    Even if he got his butt kicked, his teammates would have gained respect for him.
    Gridiron gladiators don’t run home to mommy.

    There, I said it.

  9. A.S.F. says:

    Maybe Martin handled it the way he did to make a larger point.

  10. JL says:

    Incognito should never be allowed to play professional sports again. The NFL should take a hard position on bullying. Look at what bullying is doing to our kids? So many have committed suicide because of the relentless bullying that goes on. To allow this jerk to to keep his job after what he’s done, what is that telling our kids? I saw part of his interview this morning where he wants to “hug” Martin and tell him he’s sorry? Really? Get out of here. Don’t go telling me you had no idea what you were doing was wrong and hurtful. Incognito is an idiot and he should be ordered to a rehab for stupid idiots who don’t know how to behave.

  11. Anonymous says:

    With his picture splashed all over every media this guy can no longer be Incognito.

  12. fruitcake says:

    The chickafication of the NFL continues….

    • A.S.F. says:

      @fruitcake says–Yes, the measure of a true man can be found in how much he can act like an a**hole while making millions of dollars for chasing a pigskin ball down a field while crashing into other men trying to do the same.

  13. Nancy N. says:

    Those of you saying that Martin needs to “man up” and “punch him” and other such things need to realize that meeting violence with violence is the entire problem in our society today. All it would do is escalate the situation.

    The gender disparity here is startling, too – you wouldn’t tell an abused wife to “man up” or “punch him”, would you? Why should Martin be expected to have to resort to violence or have to take abuse quietly because he was born with a Y chromosome? We can’t have true gender equality until EVERYONE is treated with respect and men and women are held to the same standards of behavior.

    • Geezer says:

      Nancy, I always enjoy reading your comments.
      As an guy who’s been around, I can tell you from experience – when
      a man tolerates verbal abuse from other men, he becomes their prey.

      It’s a sobering fact that many people only respect violence.
      In that vein, sometimes fear is the only “respect” that some people can
      afford another – the fear of getting injured if they step out of line.

      Men have to ‘man up” or agree to become submissive to the others.
      Words seldom get the job done.

      As long as there’s testosterone, there will be dominance and violence.

  14. charles marschka says:

    Wow. Of all that has been reported, this is the story and response we get from Flagler County. Incognito has definate flaws no doubt. He has said some pretty foul things. But it went both ways. The Dolphins as a team picked at Martin some during his time with them. I would bet to some degree it is the same in almost every locker room in the NFL. But, to not handle the situation through proper avenues shows a complete lack of respect and consideration from Martin. I would question his manhood. He allows the media to smear Incognito and the Dolphins without offering any details or explanation. Leaving it to the media. Complete lack of courage. I can see why they may have wanted to “toughen him up” a little. The NFL is not conducive to soft-minded or weak-willed men. It is a violent game. May Martin never play another down in the league while Incognito gets reinstated and continues in this career built for men.

    • A.S.F. says:

      @charles marschka says– You would question Martin’s manhood for walking away from an uncouth bully whose tendency towards violence is already documented and, in the same breath, would justify Incognito’s conduct as being just an example of what usually goes on in the locker rooms of organized sports? It seems to me that Incognito is the weaker of the two personalities since he apparently needs to use brute force and intimidation to gratify his ego and make himself appear to be a more superior man/player. It is precisely this kind of message that promotes bigotry and bullying and it is the antithesis of the message we should be impressing upon our children during their formative years, when they are both playing and watching sports. If the NFL whitewashes Incognito’s conduct and condemns or punishes Martin they will, indeed, be showing their stripes…And it won’t be flattering picture.

      • charles marschka says:

        Absolutely. When and where did “brute force and intimidation” occur. They did not let him sit at their table during a meal in their dining room. That was the final straw. What they have done I don’t feel is right. It is awfully childish. The man is at least 6’3″ and 315lb. Make a stand and be a man. That’s all they wanted. Good riddance. This situation is a far cry from schoolyard bullying by bigger and older people. He was not bullied. He was razzed and could not hack it. And p.s. Martin sent some vile texts also.

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