By Jason Keidel
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Lost on losers like Richie Incognito is the eternal truth of evolution. The reason humans rule the world, the reason we leapfrogged the animal world to the top of the food chain, is because we developed the only muscle that matters.
We win because we outwit, not outhit, our prehistoric enemies.
Comparatively speaking, humans are perhaps the weakest creatures on the planet. Even the smallest adult orangutan could take any MMA fighter and throw him across a basketball court, or snap his neck in two seconds, or crunch his bones to brittle.
The ancient refrain and result of the bully has not changed. Nor will it. People who lean on physical brutality to achieve their goals or improve their lives will ultimately fall, at the hand of their foe, of fate or the inevitability that thugs are fatally flawed.
Sonny Liston ran into Cassius Clay; the next time he met Muhammad Ali. Mike Tyson ran into Buster Douglas, who cracked the door open, before Evander Holyfield blasted it open for eternity.
Ryan Leaf, who famously intimidated a reporter… well… he was breaking into houses for hits of Vicodin.
Bobby Bonilla invited a reporter to step outside, then it was Bonilla who exited stage left oh-so ignominiously. The list of humbled and humiliated bullies is long, distinguished and, sadly, growing.
Enter Incognito, a football player for the Miami Dolphins, who thought it prudent to stalk, hound, harass, bully — whatever term du jour — Jonathan Martin, via texts, calls and whatever intimate intimidation was at his disposal.
He crossed so many lines we can’t keep track. The latest reports include racism, as they often do, including a text using the term “half-breed” and a new TMZ video of a drunken Incognito dropping an N-bomb.
And where’s the Miami brass in all this? Joe Philbin looks like Regis Philbin, bungling this entire drama. Even back when “Hard Knocks” covered the Dolphins his first year as head coach, there was a profound, Mr. Magoo quality to Philbin, aloof to the core, looking at the world over his spectacles, walking slowly around the team — all of which doubles as a metaphor for this entire ordeal.
He looks like a geriatric behind the lines, and behind the times, even if he isn’t. He said as the head coach he is in charge of the work environment, for which he is getting ample kudos. Well, then how did he allow this to happen?
Locker rooms are well-heeled, well-lubed, testosterone-soaked cells within which there are pods, cliques and groups, often formed by position. And, according to all who have spent time in the NFL, offensive linemen are the most formal and faithful of all. Indeed, linemen pride themselves on their intelligence and prudence.
So, again, how did this happen? You won’t get one Dolphin out of water, admitting what happened, lest he be seen as a snitch. This childish, gangster Omerta is hurting the team and, by extension, themselves. Hiding behind some implicit agreement to keep this in-house is harming everyone.
And who are they really protecting? Incognito? The one who detonated this franchise beyond repair this year? The Dolphins just went from playoff contention to plunging down the stairs to the cellar, where they have resided way too long.
We should be disgusted by anyone who condones Incognito, excuses Incognito or ignores Incognito. We should be disgusted by anyone who blames Martin, teases Martin, trivializes Martin or marginalizes Martin. He’s not only a victim, he’s the only victim in this crime. And a crime it is. If all the reports are accurate, Incognito would be lucky to escape with a suspension, sans a witness stand, a lawyer and legal bills.
And we should be disgusted by Antrel Rolle. For someone so street smart and socially savvy, he had a woeful foot-in-mouth moment on Tuesday with WFAN co-hosts Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts in New York. He blamed Martin as much as Incognito for this theater, which is myopic and misguided. He wasn’t misquoted, taken out of context or ambushed. Listen to it here.
Rolle made the mistake that too many Americans are making this week, equating volume with victory. Bullying isn’t about size or strength, but rather about brutality, an ancient, retrograde retarded view of the world and of mankind. This predatory approach to his fellow man is what landed Incognito in scalding cultural waters before, and could now very well be the death knell.
Martin, a Stanford grad reared by Ivy League parents, will move on, even if not in the NFL, and have a fruitful life because he is not defined by his size, strength, appearance or other superficial metrics we too often use and confuse with virtue.
Martin did the entirely right thing by walking out on Incognito, his teammates and his team. No sport preaches the selfless ethic more than the NFL, using an endless stream of wartime metaphors, preaching brotherhood and the notion that the men flanking you are family.
And the Dolphins, who remain mute on the matter, are in some way worse than Incognito. No one had Martin’s back, and that is unacceptable and inexcusable, if not illegal.
Cris Carter made a sublime statement on the matter. How in the hell, he pondered, was racism allowed or excused in a sport that’s 80 percent black? There was a wretched lack of communication, confidence or competence up the corporate ladder in Miami, where it’s clearly not coincidental that the Dolphins can’t control their own camp and hence haven’t won a Super Bowl in 40 years.
There’s a Nixonian (or Knicks-onian) drought in their trophy case. Part of that is they haven’t replaced Dan Marino in 15 years. The rest is systemic sickness. There’s a sense that Miami hasn’t taken the team seriously since Don Shula left. And this latest scandal has done nothing but fortify that notion.
There’s a growing chorus chanting some sick support for Incognito, using some inverted logic. They say that since Leonard Little, Lawrence Philips, Mike Vick and Riley Cooper got second chances, Wretched Richie should get one too.
Incognito has a rap sheet that would make Avon Barksdale blush. He was booted off Nebraska’s football team twice and has grazed against the grain ever since he entered the NFL. Recently, he was voted the second-dirtiest player in the NFL, a distinction you do not achieve accidentally. Now, there is an increasing stack of documented, troubling transgressions arriving at his locker, where he is no longer welcome.
Believe it or not, the NFL is a workplace like any other in that it is protected by the laws of the United or any other states where corporate conduct is expected and protected.
No matter how this matter is adjudicated, this is — forgive the nauseating cliché — a teachable moment. The reason this story has legs, wheels and wings is that it transcends football, sports and Twitter.
Everyone who has ever attended school, played in a sandbox or played on a sandlot has experienced some form of bullying. And this horrible occurrence in Miami stirs your childhood nerves, bruising old wounds, reviving old nightmares of some jackass who made your life a living hell for a week, month or year until you graduated or extricated yourself from his clutches.
Incognito loses because he must. If bullying could be translated into an algorithm — one of those sprawling, John Nash equations — it would lead to the same sum every time. Zero. He cannot win because he cannot defeat the civilized world with uncivilized behavior.
His caveman ethos was spawned by his childhood, where he evidently was a chubby child who was chided and harassed. Evidently, his father was an “old-school” dude who thought these things should be adjudicated with fists. And that was that. Incognito went from chubby to fat to huge to a behemoth. He’s now physically herculean, and emotionally illiterate.
Like all bullies, he has the life arc of a gorgeous woman who never learned to speak or read beyond the basics because her beauty opened all the doors. She eventually hits 50 and the men stop calling and she’s in the cold.
Had this not happened now, Incognito would have hit 50 somehow. If he weren’t so harmful he would be sad. Now it’s the Miami Dolphins who are about to go incognito, just as they were about to matter. But now it’s another matter that has them out of the water.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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