Richie Incognito once bullied a teammate so badly that the teammate suddenly got up from the ground and stomped out of football practice.
It was early 2002 — long before Incognito was accused of similar behavior with the Miami Dolphins. Incognito was just a freshman at Nebraska, but that didn't stop him from picking fights or harassing teammates, in this case plowing into a teammate's back during practice, knocking him to the ground for no apparent reason. The teammate responded by getting up, grabbing his equipment and walking out.
Incognito's promising college career at the University of Nebraska ended as a result of anger (fights with teammates, opponents and random students led to suspension).
As a member of the Rams from 2006 to 2009, Incognito committed 38 penalties, drawing more flags for unnecessary roughness (seven) than anyone else in that span. The St. Louis Rams gave up on him after he head-butted two opponents in 2009, the latest of the 38 penalties he committed with the Rams in four seasons. The Buffalo Bills claimed him, but dumped him after three games.
Incognito was voted the league’s dirtiest player in a 2009 Sporting News survey of 99 NFL players.
How one can be voted to this honor and have no action taken against him by the league is beyond me.
Allegations this week that Incognito bullied a younger teammate, Jonathan Martin, who left the Dolphins, may be the last straw.
After all this, one might wonder why is he still employed in the NFL?
One word: Talent. In football, mean streaks can be assets as long as they stay under control. But that has always been the issue for Incognito: Can he control it this time after not being able to control it previously?
The answer appears to be no. Since his freshman year at Nebraska, all of his college and pro teams have ended up suspending him, cutting ties with him or both.
In previous interviews with reporters, Incognito and his father indicated other students ridiculed him for being overweight as a child. His father told NFL.com that he gave his son advice: "If you let anyone give you (expletive) now, you're going to take (expletive) your entire life."
"When somebody is bullied or there's any type of abuse in their life, we see the cycle of abuse repeated in many different ways," said Shana Alexander, a psychologist in California who has worked with sports teams. "They act out sometimes all the way through their lives. Unless that person can recognize they have issues and want to change that pattern, it tends to want to repeat itself."
I would counter to Ms. Alexander that the senior Incognito’s advice was similar to advice my own father gave me, but my father followed it up with strong words about never wanting to see me be a bully.
But when I was being bullied as a child and ran into the house, he made me go back out into the street and stand my ground. I took a beating that day….but made enough of a show that the bully looked for sport elsewhere the next day.
I do not condone Incognito’s behavior, but I wonder why Martin put up with it?
After all, it is not like Martin is a cheerleader-he plays on the line as well, and looks like he can handle himself.
While I think Incognito will deserve whatever punishment the league hands out, I have a problem with a three hundred pound man who cannot stand up for himself and crying "bully."
And where were the other linemen during all this? Isn’t the offensive line supposed to function as a unit?
Many of Martin's teammates seem to side with Incognito. Apparently, the two were inseparable off the field. Said one teammate, "If Richie was terrorizing him, he had a funny way of showing it."
People face bullies throughout their life. Usually as an adult, it is non-physical, but the willingness to stand one’s ground is (in my opinion), an integral part of the conflict resolution skill set.
There may come a day when Martin will have no league official to fight his battle for him. I hope he is prepared.
And for Incognito? Sadly, some team will probably be desparate enough for a lineman that he will play again. I just hope he is faced with a rookie who hits him over the head with a chair. He needs to learn a lesson that he should have been taught a long time ago.
And that's not bullying....that's the School of Hard Knocks!