My wife has been appalled by the whole Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess. She wants to give Martin a big hug and console him and tell him everything’s going to be OK and maybe even buy him a puppy dog. And she wants to cut off a key part of Incognito’s anatomy and feed it to the wolves.
She doesn’t understand why I am not as outraged by Incognito’s alleged bullying as she is. I’ve tried to explain to her that things work differently in an NFL locker room than they do in the real world. But she’s not buying that. Especially when she sees stupid quotes like the one last week from Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.
“This is a profession,’’ Philbin said. “I tell our guys all the time, the NFL to me is like working for General Electric or Goldman-Sachs or Dell.
“You’re at the top of the food chain, so to speak, so your actions should reflect that. It’s a privilege to be a member of the National Football League, both as a player and a coach. Your actions should fit accordingly.’’
I’ve covered the NFL for more than 30 years, and despite what Philbin said, and despite what the league suits at 345 Park Avenue would like you to believe, it is nothing like General Electric or Goldman-Sachs or Dell.
Philbin is absolutely right about one thing. Football is a profession, just like accounting, public relations, engineering, journalism and medicine.
But in none of those other professions, including mine, do you put on protective gear once a week and spend three hours in hand-to-hand combat.
In none of those other professions, including mine, do you face the risk of paralysis or dementia every time you report to work.
You have to be at least half-crazy to play in the NFL. And take it from a guy who has spent three-plus decades in a locker room, a good many of them are.
I think I’ve relayed the story before of the defensive lineman who played for the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League back in the early ‘80s.
Came to the Stars from the Canadian Football League where he had been cut. When he was released by the CFL team, he went in to see the coach, locked his office door, leaned over his desk and said, “Let’s fight until somebody dies.’’
That doesn’t happen at Goldman-Sachs.
Back in the late ‘70s when I covered baseball for a newspaper in Texas, the beat writers typically rode on the charter with the team. On one flight, a Rangers outfielder who shall remain nameless, punched a hole in the bottom of his plastic drink cup, pulled out his, uh, thing, and inserted it in the bottom of the cup, and then asked the female flight attendant for a refill.
That doesn’t happen at Dell.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who spent 11 years as an offensive lineman in the league, remembers his early days with the Dallas Cowboys, when he would report to training camp, and a coach or trainer would come into his room and throw a bunch of steroids on his bed and tell him to take what he needed.
That doesn’t happen at GE team-building getaways.
So pardon me for laughing when I hear people say that the things Richie Incognito did and said to Jonathan Martin would not be acceptable in any other business. They’re right. But pro football isn’t any other business.
The culture of a sports locker room in general and an NFL locker room in particular, is different than anything you can ever imagine. The truth is it’s closer to a zoo than a boardroom.
Is Richie Incognito an ignorant musclehead who has been known to bite opposing players and squeeze their genitals in pileups? You betcha. Would I call 911 if he got within a mile of my two daughters? In a second.
Are there more, a lot more, in the league where he came from? Absolutely.
Which is why it doesn’t surprise me that most of the Dolphins’ players have publicly supported Incognito. He’s a 6-3, 305-pound cretin, but he’s their 6-3, 305-pound cretin.
Most of them would rather go to war with 10 of him than 10 well-behaved, soft-spoken, I’m-not-sure-whether-I-really-want-to-play-this-game guys like Martin who opted to walk away from a fight rather than ball his fists.
Their attitude is if he won’t take a swing at a teammate when he threatens to sodomize his sister, how can you count on him on fourth-and-goal in the final seconds of a tie game?
Do you think it was an accident that Incognito was on the team’s leadership council? No. He’s the black-ops guy you use for the dirty work. He was the guy they put in charge of toughening Martin up. They didn’t give him a set of rules to follow. They just said do it. And he did. The way he does everything else.
And Martin reacted by walking away. And the whole thing became public. And now the Dolphins and the Park Avenue suits are acting all shocked, which of course, they really aren’t. But they can’t tell you that because you might not buy another NFL-licensed lamp or jersey.
“What’s perceived is that Richie is this psychopath racist, and the reality is Richie was a pretty good teammate,’’ Dolphins offensive lineman Tyson Clabo said. “I don’t know why (Martin) is doing this. And the only person who knows why is Jonathan Martin.’’
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