By Michael Parente
Straight out of the NFL’s Shocking Development Department, yet another arrogant meathead given countless free passes for his boorish, destructive behavior finally crossed the line this week because no one bothered to step in and put an end to the madness before it reached its boiling point.
Say this much for Richie Incognito – at least he didn’t kill a guy. Or, at least no bodies have surfaced yet. Listen to the racist, hateful voicemail he left Miami Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin, the one where he dropped the N-bomb and threatened to crap down Martin’s throat. Would you be surprised to see this dumb ox wind up on Investigation Discovery a year from now? This has Jayson Williams 2.0 written all over it, another imbecile with money waving a shotgun at a house party because he thinks he’s invincible until a bullet escapes the chamber and accidentally blows someone’s brains out.
The NFL will undoubtedly drop the hammer on Incognito because it’s the right thing to do and it’d be a public relations nightmare if they didn’t do something, whether it’s genuine or not, but where was everyone – including all of Incognito’s previous employers – when Incognito was bullying freshmen teammates at the University of Nebraska, head-butting opposing linemen in St. Louis, or being voted the league’s dirtiest player by The Sporting News in 2009? Two schools kicked this guy off campus, but all that did was turn him from a potential first-round draft pick to a third-rounder in 2005, and if we’ve learned anything through the years, it’s that giving a jerk like Incognito job security and money only exasperates the problem.
What’s even more disturbing than Incognito’s rap sheet is the fact more than half a dozen former players have spoken on the record in recent days about how much they despise Incognito. Bart Scott said he should be thrown out of the league. Former NFL defensive end Lawrence Jackson said Incognito is the kind of guy who “makes you want to spit in his face.”
Punishing the player isn’t enough. Chances are the NFL wasn’t privy to all of Incognito’s brushes with authority because teams will go to great lengths to protect anyone with talent from the harsh realities of accountability, so if commissioner Roger Goodell really wants to make a statement, he should retroactively fine every team Incognito has played for, because they’re all part of the problem, even the ones who inevitably gave up on him. This is no better than Joe Paterno sweeping Jerry Sandusky’s molestation under the rug for 20 years, or the Patriots letting Aaron Hernandez get away with murder, literally and figuratively.
When teams are held accountable for their players’ actions, whether it’s by losing draft picks or being forced to pay exorbitant fines, you’ll see how quickly such indefensible behavior is nipped in the bud. Every NFL owner, general manager or coach should ask himself, “Would this fly in the real world?” If the answer is no, it shouldn’t fly in your locker room either.
Had Martin not stormed out of the Dolphins’ lunchroom last week, no one would’ve batted an eyelash at Incognito’s barbaric hazing. The Dolphins already put up with it for five years. Unfortunately, it took a player going AWOL for someone to intervene. In New England, an innocent man had to die before the Patriots cut ties with Hernandez, a well-known troublemaker with a laundry list of questionable behavior dating back to his college days in Florida.
The rules need to change. Holding teams, not just the players, accountable for unforgivable crimes will make organizations think twice before rolling the dice on a troubled player, and maybe – just maybe – the subsequent lack of job opportunities for unruly citizens will change a few attitudes along the way. Why wait until another shotgun misfires or another innocent victim goes off the deep end? Let’s start taking out the trash now.
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