Lynne Sladky/ AP Photo
Richie Incognito (l.) may never suit up again after information of his harassment of teammate Jonathan Martin (r.).
Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, long considered one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, so infuriated Texans defensive end Antonio Smith in the preseason that Smith ripped off Incognito’s helmet and swung it at him.
Smith, who did no damage, was suspended for the final two preseason games and the first game of the regular season.
The NFL is a game of men imposing their will on one another. The X-rated language, the cheap shots and the extracurricular activity at the bottom of a pile happen all the time.
It’s a form of bullying, but it’s on the field, there are seven officials in position to police it and it’s one team against another.
But now Incognito has been accused of another form of bullying — against teammate Jonathan Martin, leading the Dolphins to suspend him and it’s hard to imagine him ever playing for the Dolphins again.
This goes way beyond the boys-will-be-boys mentality of NFL locker rooms with reports that Incognito sent racially charged text messages and voice mails and crude threats to Martin.
The second-year offensive tackle left the team last Monday, with no indication when or if he’s coming back, after an incident in the Dolphins lunch room when he sat down to eat and his teammates got up to leave.
As a stand-alone event, that would be relatively harmless. But it appears to be the latest — and last — bit of hazing that forced Martin to bolt in the middle of the season.
There were also reports that Martin paid $ 15,000 for a players trip to Las Vegas even though he wasn’t going. He reportedly was pressured into paying by Incognito.
But the worst came out Monday when CBS Sports revealed Incognito left a message on Martin’s voicemail in April referring to Martin, who is biracial, as a “half n—-.” Incognito also said he would defecate in Martin’s mouth.
NFL.com, which obtained the transcript, reported Incognito also said laughing, “I’m gonna slap your real mother across the face. (Expletive) you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”
NFL.com said the transcript was part of the evidence given to the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The Dolphins have asked the NFL to investigate.
Locker room hazing has been rationalized as a rite of passage and part of the culture that has long been accepted in the NFL. But Incognito vs. Martin appears to be an unconscionable and blatant case of workplace intimidation that not only threatens the Dolphins’ season, but will force all teams to take a much closer look at what’s going on inside their locker rooms.
Rookies get tied to goal posts. They are forced to buy doughnuts for the veterans once or twice a week. Their playbooks suddenly are missing along with their helmets.
Dez Bryant, perhaps in retaliation for refusing to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads during his rookie training camp, was forced to pick up a $ 54,896 tab for a team dinner at a Dallas steakhouse. Even Jerry Jones said it “would make my eyes water to have a bill like that.”
Brett Favre’s favorite practical joke was stealing his teammates’ car keys from their lockers before practice in the middle of the winter and then having a locker room attendant drive the car to the other side of Lambeau Field.
But what Incognito allegedly did far crossed the line of locker room fun.
“He’s a passionate guy that loves football,” one coach who has been on the same team as Incognito told the Daily News on Monday. “At times, he has trouble controlling his anger or emotions and the game day issues got out of control. That sums him up in a nutshell. I don’t know a lot about his life outside of football.”
The Rams cut Incognito two days after a 2009 game in which he was assessed with two personal fouls for head butting (and fined $ 50,000) and got into a sideline argument with coach Steve Spagnuolo.
He appeared to get things in order by making the Pro Bowl with the Dolphins last year and then being voted by teammates this season to the players council. But it all blew up in his face Monday.
Miami coach Joe Philbin said Monday that he met with Martin the night of last week’s incident and said, “He never mentioned to me any accusations or any inappropriate behavior.”
But conversations Sunday with Martin’s representatives alleged player misconduct. Soon after, Philbin decided to suspend Incognito.
“As the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, I am in charge of the workplace atmosphere,” Philbin said. “I take this responsibility very seriously.”
NFL teams are supposed to be a brotherhood. The players are supposed to take care of each other. The message appears to have gotten lost in Miami.