If I hear another opinionator go all in on what a bad guy Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito is, I think I am going to throw up a little bit in my mouth.
Not because it is not true.
By all accounts, including transcriptions of his vulgar, N-word-dropping text and voice messages to teammate Jonathan Martin, Incognito is a bully, a racist and a dark and twisted dude. He’s, at very least, a miserable teammate to have to share a locker room with.
What I also know for sure is Richie Incognitos, in whatever form they take — sexist bigots, bullies, raging a-holes — cannot survive much less thrive without the help of others. And these bystanders are the real bad guys.
You want to talk about what is wrong with the Miami Dolphins? It is not simply Incognito. It is a coach in Joe Philbin who did not bother to keep his finger on the pulse of his team. It is a general manager in Jeff Ireland who watched one of his players walk away from an NFL job with NFL checks and did not start asking the right questions about why until way too late. It is the rest of the locker room who stood idly by and let Martin be bullied.
You cannot tell me Dolphins players never once heard Incognito’s verbal taunts, never once noticed a young lineman in emotional distress, never once thought, “Man, this has gone a little too far.” And it is every person who saw what was happening to Martin and did nothing who deserve our condemnation.
We keep getting it wrong when we talk about bullying in this country. We focus on the bully —what motivated him, how to stop him, why, why, why — and we ignore the real issue. None of these situations escalates to newsworthy if one guy, or girl, or group stands up and says, “Not on my watch,” or “Leave him alone” or a little more gutsy, “If you have a problem with him, you have a problem with me.”
These are the cowards, the teammates who piled on or laughed or zipped and shut because confronting Incognito was too damn hard. This is what we should be talking about in Miami and in the larger bullying conversation we are having across this country as too many kids decide they’d rather be dead than take another day of harassment at school.
This Martin situation should slap a little reality into everybody because, if a 6-foot-5, 312-pound lineman can feel so threatened and despondent to walk away from NFL zeroes over cruel and isolating words, imagine what it must feel like for a 10- or 14-year-old. I remember being that age, and everything felt like the end of the world.
It is too much, and our response is not nearly enough.
I was sickened to see how many responded to Martin’s very brave decision to walk away before Incognito really screwed with him with talk of how he needed to man up, confront him, drop the gloves and be a man. Good God, enough with this “be a man” crap.
No wonder Martin felt like he had no recourse other than to leave.
We talk about how bad bullying is yet we downplay actual examples, we blame victims and we have no real solutions. Because there are always going to be Incognitos — in every school, in every organization, at every company. You cannot educate the mean out of some people. The difference-maker is how does your school handle it, your team, your leaders?
We think Incognito has nothing to do with us or that young bully from Florida for that matter, but in fact we are all complicit. The damage is not done by heartless, faceless goons who get off on saying they plan to (expletive) in your (expletive) mouth. The damage is done by those who let it happen, those who forget their humanity and go along to get along, those who see a kid suffering and forget that it is their duty to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Incognito may be a bad guy; the only reason he survived was the supposed good guys did nothing.