RICHIE INCOGNITO IS A BIG, FAT JERK
(BUT FOOTBALL HAD BETTER NOT CHANGE ITS CULTURE)
During his salad days as an undergraduate, El Hombre had the opportunity to share a dormitory with several members of the school’s highly successful football team. Getting to know Bodzilla, T.J., Bubba and “2-4, Back Door” was a privilege, and plenty of knowledge and B.S. were passed back and forth during our encounters.
One day, however, things went a little too far. Make that, a certain media All-Star’s mouth went too far. The result was a trip, head first, into a large trashcan, courtesy of Slob Thompson, outside linebacker. This 6-foot, 5-inch, 230-pound man had a largely gregarious personality along with the physical ability to deposit wise-ass sports commentators into containers containing pizza boxes and other sundry refuse, just as easily as he put on his tinted glasses.
It was not a particularly proud moment for Your Hero. But once clear of the cylinder, there was time to reflect on the lessons learned from the incident. It would have been easy to report Slob for his actions. Old Coach Grouchy would have loved to make him run the stadium steps a few mornings as punishment for flexing his muscles. But that wasn’t the right path. Slob’s show of force was warranted, and it achieved the desired bit of behavior modification. In other words, an act that would be considered wildly inappropriate in certain circles was certainly proper in this situation.
Men do this kind of stuff to other men. Some do it with strength. Others use words. More use power or money. It has happened as long as men have walked upright, although there are some who attribute certain of these behaviors to Australopithecus and therefore blanch at the idea that they continue today.
Last week, Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team after reaching his fill of the tactics employed by teammate Richie Incognito, whose myriad on and off-field misdeeds have been well chronicled. According to many media reports, Incognito’s hazing efforts had gone well beyond the basic rookie stuff and included racist and threatening language. Martin decided to leave the team after Incognito and other Miami offensive linemen got up and left a table in the team cafeteria after Martin sat down. It was a childish prank, the kind that can be found at middle schools around the country, but it was apparently quite enough for Martin.
Tuesday, Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel reported that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin had directed Incognito to ride Martin, hoping the veteran’s actions would make Martin tougher. And there’s where the problem comes in. This isn’t about the NFL’s locker room culture, which if applied to standards demanded in traditional workplaces would be an abomination, but within the environment of young, talented, highly successful, aggressive young men is accepted. It’s about the fact that a coach asked a player like Incognito to be responsible for the development of a teammate. The villains here are Philbin and Incognito, not football or its traditions.
That’s a vital distinction to make. Say what you want about the NFL practice of making young players sing songs, get bad haircuts, run errands, buy food, tote equipment or even get taped to the goalposts after practice, but it’s all part of joining the group. Those who handle their tests without complaint gain entry into the veterans’ world. Those who can’t behave properly will have problems developing the necessary bonds with their teammates will be viewed as untrustworthy in crucial on-field situations. It’s largely innocuous stuff, and it doesn’t deserve the oncoming assault by those who don’t understand it. As long as it doesn’t include violence, bigotry or extreme psychological abuse, leave it alone.
The problem here is that an authority figure – Philbin – in an effort to make one of his players tougher reportedly turned to the wrong person for assistance. Incognito, a serial bad actor whose history of boorish behavior can be traced back to his freshman year at Nebraska, has been voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers and has made a career out of angering teammates and opponents alike. There is no way, repeat NO WAY, Philbin didn’t know about this when he asked Incognito to thicken Martin’s skin. Turning a documented bully loose on someone like Martin, a Stanford graduate with a quite demeanor and a gentle personality, was irresponsible at best and perhaps even criminal. This situation careened out of control as Incognito bore down on Martin, and Philbin and his staff refused to monitor and end it. Even if recent comments by Dolphins players described Incognito as Martin’s “best friend” on the team and like a “big brother” to him are true, Incognito’s tactics were wrong.
Should Martin have struck back? Probably. And a report by ProFootballTalk.com indicates that Miami GM Jeff Ireland told Martin’s agent the tackle should have confronted Incognito physically. But Martin wouldn’t have found too many allies in the locker room. According to the Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero, Incognito’s teammates respected and liked him, despite his aggressive personality. And one of the reasons there has been no outcry from African-American Dolphins regarding Incognito’s use of a racist term in a text to Martin is that he is an “honorary black man” in the locker room, according to Salguero’s report. If Martin had stood up to Incognito, it might not have gone well.
But that isn’t the issue here. Different people handle things differently. This situation isn’t about whether a rookie has to carry shoulder pads after practice. It’s about the judgment of a leader in charge of a group of men. If the reports are true, Philbin made a crucial error in directing Incognito to toughen Martin. For that, he and his henchman must pay.
* * *
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Did you hear about the Bears fan who tasered his wife after Chicago knocked off Green Bay Monday night? Turns out the two had made a bet on the game in a local establishment, and the missus – a Packer backer – had to pay up. She later told police officers who were investigating the bizarre wager that she didn’t expect her husband to go through with it. Just another example of how women have no idea about men. The chance to use a taser? Awesome! To fire it at the wife? Well, no comment…The MLS playoffs continue apace, with Houston’s knocking out the Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City – oh, who is El Hombre kidding? Nobody cares about that crap…Good news, Alabama fans: Nick Saban says he is sticking around and not taking the Texas job. In other news, Warden Hazen has promised Paul “Wrecking” Crewe that after the guards get a 21-point lead in the second half, they’ll lay off the Mean Machine…Kansas State students who attend the Lady Wildcats’ basketball game against Tennessee State Friday will receive free bacon. Big things are forecast for KSU this year, which hopes to play styfling defense and the kind of unselfish offense that doesn’t feature players’ hogging the ball. With a kickoff promotion like this, it should be a snoutstanding season in Manhattan…Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders is under investigation for his role in a fight at a local nightclub that left him with an injured thumb. According to reports, Sanders started the brawl and allegedly broke several bottles of champagne over people’s heads during the fracas. Police are likely to look past the bubbly assaults, since given the team’s play in recent decades, no Buck player could possibly know what to do with champagne…Members of the South Holt (MO) HS football team chose to forfeit their final game of the season, in order to attend the Future Farmers of America convention in Louisville. The team finished the season without a victory, but at least the players are up on the latest techniques on raising sorghum and made some new friends at the convention – the Jacksonville Jaguars, who seem to have forfeited all of their games this year…A middle school football coach in Oregon has been fired for refusing to change the site of his team’s season-ending banquet from Hooters to Just About Anywhere Else. Coach Randy Burbach reportedly chose Hooters for its “family” atmosphere and turned down a chance to stage the event at the local strip club, because it didn’t have enough high chairs.
* * *
YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Looks like that four-leaf clover Chip Kelly carries around with him is finally paying off. Last week, his Eagles played against a Raider defense that looked like it gave the points and bet the over, and this week, they take on Green Bay, which is without Aaron Rodgers. Expect Washington NFL Franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III to take a leave of absence before next week’s game, Megatron to join the French Foreign Legion in advance of the Birds’ Dec. 8 game against Detroit and Bears players to opt for the Future Welders of America convention later that month. All Kelly’s Heroes need for the Dec. 29 showdown in Dallas is a healthy Tony Romo to be throwing key late interceptions for the Cowgirls. Imagine the excitement when the Eagles win the NFC Island of Misfit Toys decision and are 17 ½-point underdogs to San Francisco in the wild-card playoff round. Good times!
* * *
AND ANOTHER THING: Wednesday brought the disturbing news that a series of tests conducted on former NFL players at UCLA concluded that Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Joe DeLamielleure and all-pro Leonard Marshall have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain condition many scientists say is caused by repeated head trauma and is considered a precursor to dementia and depression. In an interview aired on espn’s Outside the Lines program, Dorsett admitted that he has trouble controlling his emotions and that he often forgets routine tasks he must perform and the routes he must take while driving. Dorsett said he’s “too smart” to take his own life but that “it’s crossed my mind.” Is El Hombre the only one who thinks that in 50 years people may be telling their children about a defunct sport that was great to play and watch but that it put participants at such risk for future brain damage that it had to be outlawed? This is serious stuff, and it is time for some big-time changes in the game. First, commit 100% to making helmets as safe as possible, no matter what they look like. Second, widen the damn field, the better to force tacklers to wrap their arms and take the man to the ground, rather than setting the stage for dozens of mammoth collisions in confined spaces each game. Finally, establish a committee of people to oversee football at every level and get rid of any coach who doesn’t teach his players to tackle correctly. How many more players must we hear speak of their deteriorating physical conditions before serious measures are taken to protect today’s athletes – and not just to limit future NFL liability? After Wednesday, it would appear as if there are plenty more to come.