Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Eight Things I Think About Incognito And Martin

1-What Miami Dolphins slab of beef Richie Incognito did to his teammate Jonathan Martin is unconscionable. You do not threaten a coworker. You do not use racial epithets to refer to him or his family. You do not threaten his family. You do not repeatedly do this. You do not demand part of his paycheck on repeated occasions because you are senior to him. Anyone doing this in any rational company would be terminated instantly, and possibly, depending on the threats, arrested.


2-The Dolphins, after initially downplaying the situation and making statements supporting Incognito, were confronted with evidence of the threatening phone calls today. 
Then, they suspended him. 
And if anyone says "they were just protecting their player", well, Martin is their player, too.


3-Incognito is widely known as an ass. Tony Dungy, who is the closest thing to Ned Flanders the NFL has produced in decades, said that his team had Incognito marked as "Do Not Draft" because of personality issues. In the offseason, Incognito received a "trespass warning" for his part in an altercation at a bar. He was part of a helmet-swinging brawl in the preseason. A former college and pro teammate said that "he's had these issues for a while". The fact that he plays football reasonably well does not excuse the fact that he is an ass. The fact that he continued to find employment as a football player despite being an ass indicates the sort of people who are making personnel decisions in the NFL.

4-Anyone blaming Martin for either walking away, following the league-mandated approaches for dealing with crap like this, or not "manning up" and dealing with Incognito in some suitably macho way is also an ass. As much as we love slathering the NFL in the language of gladiatorial combat and ground warfare, it exists within the confines of civil society. It does not exist in some frothing pit of Russell Crowe's CGI-rendered testosterone from outtakes of Gladiator where the appropriate response to being robbed and threatened by a coworker is to go Thunderdome. Martin handled the situation in exactly the right way, and exactly the way the league mandated. He walked away, he kept proof, and he didn't do anything stupid. And now there's a chance this thing actually gets resolved by grownups. 
Now there's talk about how Martin will have trouble finding another spot around the league, about how other players are backing Incognito because Martin violated the "sanctity" of the locker room. And of course, there are stories criticizing Martin because other guys - Mike Pouncey is one name mentioned prominently - didn't take that kind of abuse from Incognito. This is idiotic for a couple of reasons. One, we're not talking about Pouncey, we're talking about Martin, a guy the Dolphins drafted and have invested a lot of money in. Smart teams and smart businesses protect their investment. They don't whinge on about how it's not a different investment. Two, in the real world we call this "blaming the victim". But in a league where a guy who has broken two of his teammates' noses with off-the-field punches is regarded as a steadying veteran presence, what do you expect.

5-Anyone attempting to excuse any part of this behavior as "well, that's just what you do to rookies in the NFL" is an idiot. 
Yes, there's certain team building value to be garnered from putting peers in a a shared situation, and in building traditions that get passed down as part of group culture. When I was a department manager, I always made the most recent hire in the department order the pizza for the departmental lunches. I did this so A)everyone in the department would have a reason to talk to the new guy, thus making sure everyone got introduced and B)new guy could then turn around and solemnly instruct the next new guy in the duties of being Pizza Guy, and thus we had a little departmental tradition. Being Pizza Guy took somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes a month, did not cost the employee anything, and carried with it some authority - you could always order some weird-ass pizza nobody liked if people messed with you. 
This, then, is why you have the rookies pick up dinner once. Or pay for donuts. Or sing their school fight songs. It stops when they're part of the team. It stops when "everybody chips in" becomes "a significant chunk of your annual salary in a career that may not last too long". It stops when it becomes harmful, when the original notion of team building gets lost and it becomes about power, the strong punishing the weak while they can. 

6-It's already established that the Dolphins' owner, Stephen Ross, is worth four billion dollars. He is also trying to squeeze a few hundred million from Miami and Dade County for stadium renovations, crying poor about his team. Fish, as they say, rot from the head. Dolphins are mammals, not fish, but the principle remains. If there was a long-term issue like this in the locker room and the coaches either didn't see it or ignored it, then there's an organizational problem. And if they knew about it and let Incognito keep doing it, then those coaches need to go.

7-Anyone attempting to equate this to the Riley Cooper mess is an idiot. Cooper got liquored up, said stupid and hateful things, got shut down by his team immediately, and has kept his mouth shut since. Whether you buy his public contrition or not is up to you; it remains a fact, though, that he has not publicly said stupid, hateful crap since. This is in no way an endorsement of Riley Cooper, three touchdowns or not. It's merely an appreciation of the fact that he did the bare minimum and stopped with the dumb-ass public racism.
Incognito, on the other hand, kept up an on-going campaign of racist epithets and threats. Let's look at that key word again: on-going. That means he kept doing it. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a solitary outburst. It was an extended program, which means he consciously made the decision to do this stupid, hateful crap again and again. And until they had no choice, the Dolphins let Incognito keep going.

8-Until yesterday, Incognito was publicly and profanely declaring his innocence. Then the voice mails and text messages surfaced. The proof. Incognito shut up. Which just goes to show that a bully's first reaction is to continue to bully. His second, when someone stands up to him, is to run.

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