If the evidence is factual, Dolphins guard Richie Incognito is a racist, a bully and one of the lower forms of life known to man. He's alleged to have sent racial slurs to teammate Jonathan Martin via text and voicemail and even gone so far as to threaten the life of the second-year offensive lineman.
The Dolphins have indefinitely suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team because his actions, if true, are morally abominable and potential violations of workplace laws. Still, there are NFL personnel people and active and former players who believe Martin handled the situation poorly by allowing it to spill out of the locker room and into the public.
That's not to say they're defending Incognito. They're not in any way, shape or form. But they do believe there is an unwritten rule that player business should be handled in the locker room by the players themselves, particularly when the actions are as vile as those attributed to Incognito.
"I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person," said one personnel man, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man! Mike Pouncey was a rookie at one point while Incognito was there and you never heard any complaints from him. There's no other way to put it, other than him being sofTTT!"
Said another: "Guys are going to be guys, if you know what I mean. I'm sure there are some instances of 'taking things too far,' but that happens everywhere. You handle it in house -- fight, handle it on the field, joke about it, etc -- and keep it moving."
The Dolphins clearly feel otherwise, if only to protect themselves in the event of a lawsuit. That aside, what fascinates me is how quickly the conversation among players and personnel people turned from Incognito's actions to those of Martin, who has not spoken publicly since the story broke last week. Again, no one defended Incognito, but they did wonder why Martin didn't "man up" and handle the situation one-on-one.
"I might get my ass kicked," one said, "but I'm going to go down swinging if that happens to me, I can tell you that."
Right or wrong, that sentiment is shared by many of the players I spoke with. Football is testosterone driven. It's a physical game and, as such, many of its participants believe that's how issues of (dis)respect should be handled when all else fails -- internally, man against man.
"Locker room culture will never be understood unless you've lived or have been around it," said a personnel man. "This is another ploy in the league's 'player safety' book. Incognito knew who to try. You never heard anything like this come from John Jerry or Mike Pouncey. Instead of being a man and confronting him, he acted like a coward and told like a kid."
I keep asking why none of Martin's teammates ever stepped in and stopped the alleged harassment from reaching the point where Martin felt he had to leave the team. Someone had to know because there are no secrets in an NFL locker room, especially if something as offensive as Incognito's alleged actions are taking place.
Perhaps it was because teammates felt no connection with Martin, who was described as "different" by one source. Or maybe it was because, in that culture, they didn't feel the need to stand up for someone who wouldn't directly stand up for himself. Lastly, they could've felt there was nothing wrong with the behavior because three years ago general manager Jeff Ireland allegedly asked Dez Bryant, then a draft prospect, if his mother was a prostitute. If a franchise's head personnel man feels it's OK to ask such a question, should it come as a surprise that the locker room might lack moral boundaries?
Another thing that fascinates me about the story is the reaction of some fans. They have an insatiable appetite for the game, devouring everything that comes their way and then asking for more before they've taken their last bite. Yet when the curtain is pulled back they feign shock and outrage at what they see.
Did anyone really believe that bullying didn't take place in the locker room? It has always been there, in some form or another. When a player makes a mistake and a coach publicly dresses him down on the sideline or threatens to fire him, is that not a form of bullying? No, I'm not comparing that with Incognito's situation, although some will claim that I am. Instead, I'm trying to get a clear handle on where motivation ends and bullying begins. I'm trying to remove the hypocrisy from the equation, like when people say they're concerned about player safety but are comfortable with guys sustaining concussions because they were "aware of the risks."
Incognito is a despicable human being if he's guilty of what's been alleged, but in the NFL teams will put up with drug dealers, dog fighters, drunk drivers who kill someone and racists if they can help them win games. Said one personnel man: "Incognito is an A-Hole, however I'm pretty sure you would want him beside you if you are in a bar fight. Tough as nails."