When Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was named to the Pro Bowl this week, it set up an interesting meeting in the AFC team’s locker room in Orlando on Wednesday. It would be the first time Ngakoue would be seeing Bills guard Richie Incognito, also a Pro Bowl selection, since the two had had words in the wild card playoff game in Jacksonville on Jan. 7. After that game, Ngakoue accused Incognito of directing “weak racist slurs” at him during the game.
Ngakoue stood by his charge the next day in Jacksonville, but neither man has spoken publicly about the incident until now. Incognito told The MMQB on Thursday morning that he would not address what was said on the field that day, but he described a meeting in the AFC locker room before Wednesday’s practice in which he approached Ngakoue and apologized for his role in the verbal skirmish earlier this month.
“I saw him in the locker room, went up to him, said, ‘Good to finally meet you,’ I apologized for my part in this, and I said I hope we can get a drink here and I can get to know you better,” said Incognito. “He was cool. We shook hands and hugged it out.”
Incognito said he tried to reach out to Ngakoue the day after the game, and finally was able to get on the phone with him when the NFL Players Association arranged it a week later. Although neither player has detailed exactly what was said on the field, Buffalo GM Brandon Beane has said there was some “back-and-forth” between Ngakoue and Incognito. The fact that the league has not come out and ruled against Incognito could be a sign that there are two sides to this story. But clearly, if Incognito said something with racial overtones, it’s not acceptable, whatever the environment.
“It was important for me to be able to speak man-to-man with Yannick about it,” Incognito said by phone from Orlando. “It was a reminder how powerful our words can be. But it gets crazy out there. Real crazy. Things are said and done on the football field that are never said off the field, never seen off the field. What happens on the football field very often is not a reflection of who we are as people. That’s why I wanted to see him here. It’s a great setting to talk as men. Yannick is celebrating his first Pro Bowl—much deserved, and he is a heck of a pass-rusher, and we had our hands full with him when we played. And I was glad we were able to get together as men and talk about it.”
The MMQB tried to reach Ngakoue on Thursday at the Pro Bowl, but a spokesman for the Jaguars asked him about the incident and said Ngakoue did not want to discuss the story any further.
“I do think it’s dead,” Incognito said. “I hope it can be put to bed.”
The NFL reiterated on Thursday afternoon that it is still investigating the incident. It’s unknown when a resolution will come down, or what possible punishment there might be.
“What happened on the field that day is an exchange between two men in the setting of a football game,” Incognito said. “We’re gonna keep it between us. Out of peace and armistice, we are just going to keep it between us.”
Still, Incognito knows that because of his checkered past—Warren Sapp once accused him of using a racial slur during a game, and there was the ugly series of bullying incidents with teammate Jonathan Martin on the Dolphins in 2013—some will assume he’s most at fault here. Asked if he felt the incident would be harmful to him even without specifics being disclosed, he said: “I have had the support of my teammates, and my friends on the Jacksonville squad who know me. I understand there’s a part of the population who hate my guts, and there’s nothing I can do or say to them that will change their minds. But the people who know me, and the people who respect me, those are the only people I really care about. And I think they know the real me.”
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