Richie’s Wish: To Be Incognito, Please!

In MEMORIAM: G. Ronald Tillman 5/21/53 – 11/13/12


Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend, Fraternity Brother, fellow Carolina alum, and sports fan extraordinaire, G. Ronald Tillman, transitioning to the next life.  May he Rest In Peace!  This post is for him.

For the past couple of weeks now a significant portion of the NFL media machine has focused on the brouhaha emanating from the Richie IncognitoJonathan Martin imbroglio.  Just in case you have been in a cave, you have been out of the country, or perchance, you happen not to be a football fan, and have managed to miss this storyline, it boils down, in a nutshell, to a blow-up in the Miami Dolphins locker room.

Depending upon ones perspective, the not so spontaneous combustion occurred because Incognito bullied Martin, and displayed racist behavior, or because Martin, a rookie, despite being 6’5”, 312 pounds, was ill equipped, or at least reluctant to push back against the 6’3”, 320 pounds of Incognito.  Ultimately, Martin left the team, according to his attorney, because of “harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing.”  The Dolphins subsequently suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team.

By most estimates, football, the NFL variety, is America’s Sport.  It is the ultimate gladiator contest.  Moreover, as this episode underscores, not just the combatants, but even teammates can be adversaries.  There are myriad stories purporting to depict the intricacies of what happened and why, including details of the interaction between the two men, both before and after the controversial locker room/team meeting incident.

For his part, faced with the release of a profanity and racial epithet laced text message that he sent Martin, Mr. Incognito has responded , insisting that he is not a racist, and that the transcript of the text message simply reflects the close nature of the team, and the fact that they routinely communicate (without malice) in this non-traditional way.  He also asserts that Martin recently sent him a threatening text message…which he “did not take seriously.”

While the NFL is still in its investigative process, there are already rumors that Martin may be through as a Dolphin.  Speculation persists that Incognito, despite a checkered past, in college, and in the NFL, is of higher value to the team than the shy, standoffish, and perhaps cerebral (played collegiately at Stanford University) Martin.

The angles to this story are varied and endless.  I will not even attempt to explore them, nor their validity, in an exhaustive manner.  Instead, in honor of my good friend Ron, I will do what sports fans (extraordinaire or not) typically do best; offer my unvarnished opinion on the matter.

I have been neither in a cave, nor out of the country.  I do admit to not being a big NFL fan.  The he game is too violent for my tastes.  Moreover, it is not just that there is violence in the game, but rather that NFL players, especially at the so-called non-skilled positions, gain their bona fides based on the level and intensity of the violence they bring to a particular play.  There is a purposeful effort to elevate the “doing battle in the coliseum” metaphor when opposing teams take the football field.

By most accounts, Richie is certainly no choirboy.  However, there is no indication his behavior, vis-à-vis Martin, was viewed as a problem by the team.  In fact, his extracurricular activity may even have been encouraged.  While I respect that football culture is unique, and that the locker room is a special inner sanctum, it is virtually impossible to draw an imaginary line in the sand that dictates aggression and hostilities start and stop on cue.  Those unpredictable traits almost never conform in such a convenient way.

In my view, Incognito’s actions are boorish and unsportsmanlike.  His behavior in this incident was not consistent with that of a good teammate; in every way imaginable, it was unacceptable.  However, the bottom line is, his actions are on par for the NFL.  Some reports floating around go as far as to suggest Miami’s coaching staff actually encouraged Incognito to “bring Martin out of his shell.”  Given the machismo-driven attitudes associated with even the fandom of football, it is hard to consider anything about this matter surprising.  It is part of a classic vicious cycle.  The players display a ake-no-prisoners attitude.  The fans exhort them to be even more forceful.  The players double-down and step it up.

So where does it all end?  In this instance, it ends with…“Richie’s Wish: To Be Incognito Please!”  I’m done; holla back!

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