There are many players in the NFL we would consider to be “hot commodities.” They are guys who substantially increase their value to teams that may have otherwise overlooked them, creating a bidding war for their premier services at a particular position. For a player to increase his value, it often takes hard work, discipline and a positive mindset. Of course, there are plenty of ways for a player to decrease his value as well, but none are quicker or more self-destructive than the route Dolphins guard Richie Incognito just took.
Come to think of it, Incognito didn’t just decrease his value, he virtually destroyed it. After what Incognito was found guilty of this week, some would call him “locker room poison,” but that’s far too kind. Incognito is a rare breed of despicable. Not only is he a PR-nightmare, he’s the plague, which is why it’s baffling that he’s still technically a member of the Dolphins organization.
In case you haven’t been following the Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga, here’s a brief recap: Martin, the Dolphins rookie tackle who left the team for “emotional reasons” last week, has been harassed by Incognito with racial slurs and threats for much of the season. A particularly ugly voicemail left for Martin from Incognito – much of which shouldn’t be repeated – placed that verbal abuse on full display for the rest of the football world. Unsurprisingly, the Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely, but haven’t officially released him from the team, which begs the question: What are they waiting for?
As we saw with Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper earlier this season, sometimes a guy can turn things around. After yelling racial slurs on a video that went viral, Cooper apologized to his teammates, took sensitivity training and is now a productive member of the Eagles squad. Of course, playing well helps people forget what he did, but since we haven’t heard any bad news coming from Philly’s camp since, we have to assume that he’s on better terms with the organization now. Maybe the Dolphins are hoping for a similar outcome with Incognito?
Sorry to say, but that’s blind optimism. Unlike Cooper, Incognito has a track record of this type of behavior and venomous disrespect. In fact, his reputation as a bully dates all the way back to 2002, before he was even considered a professional. According to the diary of Nebraska teammate David Kolowski, via a USA Today report, Incognito harassed a teammate so intensely and consistently that the abuse caused him to leave practice. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
After being convicted of misdemeanor assault, he then transferred to Oregon, but was cut from the team before he participated in a single practice. However, he still managed to get drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2005 and quickly built a reputation as a dirty player, winning the distinguished title of the NFL’s “Dirtiest Player” in 2009, according to a Sporting News survey. Even back then, there were some who noticed Incognito’s pattern of nasty behavior and predicted that it would likely continue.
“He was on a crash course toward being completely out of the league,” said current Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson in a NFL.com profile piece on Incognito. “You’d watch him on tape and you’d say, ‘He’s completely lost control.’ No teams wanted to touch him, which was very understandable.”
Apparently, with Incognito, history tends to repeat itself. If the Dolphins don’t take care of the infection that is Richie Incognito now, it could get worse. According to a source with the Dolphins, via The Miami Herald, it’s only a matter of time before Incognito is kicked off the squad, but that the ongoing review of the situation needs to be completed first.
“He’s done,” the source told the Herald Monday. “There are procedures in place and everyone wants to be fair. The NFL is involved. But from a club perspective he’ll never play another game here.”
While that statement seems to make things cut and dry, the ever-developing situation is not so simple. According to the same source, Incognito will get the chance to defend himself and until he does, he will remain a Dolphin. Even more interesting is that Incognito seems to think he will win this war and stay with the team, telling South Florida’s WSVN Channel 7 Wednesday morning that he’s “trying to weather the storm right now,” and that “this will pass,” according to ESPN.com.
And considering he’s gotten away with plenty before, why wouldn’t he believe this will blow over? The only way to truly teach Incognito his lesson would be to take his career away from him and if the Dolphins aren’t willing to do that, they are basically saying that hate speech, threats to one’s family and racial slurs are OK in the NFL. You can argue that Martin should have been more assertive in handling the situation and you can argue that the Dolphins should have intervened earlier, but you can’t defend hate. Hopefully, the Dolphins defend the good guy instead and do the right thing. Otherwise, the NFL and pro sports in general will have set a very ugly precedent that could lead somewhere even darker than the places this unfortunate situation has already traveled.