When reports first surfaced over the weekend that Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin left the team because of persistent bullying from guard Richie Incognito, an incensed Incognito vehemently denied any involvement and addressed several media outlets on his Twitter account, writing “I want my name CLEARED.”
But after the transcript became public of a voicemail that Incognito reportedly left for Martin, in which Incognito can be heard delivering an obscenity-laced tirade with racially charged taunts and the words “I’ll kill you,” Incognito has been silent on the matter.
And if the reprehensible allegations against Incognito are true, let’s hope he is never heard from in an NFL locker room again.
All indications are that the Dolphins plan to release Incognito, although the timing of his departure is uncertain. The Dolphins, who initially said on Sunday that they had not received any complaints about Incognito bullying Martin to the point when he left the team last week, have suspended Incognito indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. The NFL is now investigating the matter, and the Dolphins are cooperating.
This isn’t the first time Incognito has gotten himself into trouble in a football locker room. Hopefully, it’s the last. He doesn’t deserve the chance to play again if the investigation concludes that he taunted Martin as severely as reports now indicate.
“He’s done,” a team source told the Miami Herald on Monday of Incognito’s future with the Dolphins. “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.”
The Dolphins would be the fourth team that dismissed Incognito for behaviorial reasons. In 2004, while at Nebraska, he was suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of team rules. Later that season, after transferring to Oregon, he was also dismissed from the team.
In 2009, he was released by the Rams two days after he drew two personal-foul penalties in a game and argued with coach Steve Spagnuolo, who is one of the most level-headed, easy-going coaches you’ll ever come across.
And after what has happened in Miami, Incognito no longer deserves the privilege of walking into an NFL locker room.
This isn’t the first instance of an NFL player bullying a teammate, and it likely won’t be the last. But the level to which it rose was something rarely, if ever, seen at this level. What he reportedly did was inexcusable at every level, and there is no explaining away those actions.
And while some of the rituals that veteran players put their younger teammates through will no doubt continue – mostly buying some meals or being the subject of generally harmless pranks – the players need to know there is a line they cannot cross.
Let the examples be ones like what happened to Jets rookies Sheldon Richardson and Dee Milliner back in the spring.
“In [Official Team Activities], we pushed back once,” Richardson said, declining to say what prank they declined to participate in. “We went to go eat, and we came back, our mattresses were flipped over and everything was on the floor. I mean everything.”
Did Richardson ever find out who did it? “Nah ... cold case right there,” he said.
He added that neither he nor any other rookies felt threatened by their older teammates.
“It’s just jokes, like picking on your little brother or your little cousin,” he said. “Just laugh it off.”
Jets head coach Rex Ryan, while not commenting specifically on the Dolphins, said it’s important for players to embrace their differences, not let those differences pull them apart.
“For us, we talk about respect,” Ryan said. “Everybody’s different, every team. You’ve got married guys, single guys, you’ve got good looking guys – we mostly have ugly guys – it doesn’t matter. Different religious beliefs. Everybody’s different. You’ve got 53 guys in there and everyone’s different. The thing that binds you together is respect and that’s something we certainly strive for.”
Ryan said there are valuable life lessons to be learned in an NFL locker room.
“Part of the beauty of this game is that it unites you all for a common purposes, and no matter where you get guys from – North, South – you come in for a common purpose,” he said. “You can’t accomplish anything in this league unless you are together.”
Words to live by for every NFL team.