Today, we offer a multiple choice:
A) Richie Incognito is a troubled soul with a checkered past, a racist, a bully, a clubhouse cancer, a no-character character.
B) Jonathan Martin is a weakling, an emotionally fragile child in a brutal man’s sport, a bad teammate and quitter who walked away and turned tattle tale.
C) The Miami Dolphins’ problem is at the top, from a general manager who would have settled it with a fist fight to a see-no-evil head coach who had no interest in controlling his locker room.
D) All of the above.
E) None of the above.
The National Football League turned its narrative back to football Sunday, but the pregame shows kept considerable focus on the Dolphins’ scandal and absolutely nobody was stronger than Shannon Sharpe on CBS.
A quick review: Martin, a second-year offensive tackle, left the Dolphins recently and charged that he had been bullied verbally and otherwise by Incognito, a veteran guard, who was suspended indefinitely. Copies of text and voice messages attributed to Incognito that were profane and included racial overtones became public. Some surprising comments, including considerable support for Incognito, who is white, came from Miami teammates. The NFL has launched an investigation.
“I want to talk about a culture fostered in that locker room and allowed to flourish,” Sharpe said, before estimating that some 75 percent of the Dolphins’ players are African-American. “If you allow Richie Incognito to walk around in an open locker room and to use a racial epithet that most black Americans, that all black Americans know the stigmatism and the hate and the vitriol that comes with that word; if [blacks] allow him to do that [they’re] encouraging him to do that. It had to be unchecked.”
Sharpe also reacted to reports that some black Miami players said that Incognito was recognized as “an honorary black. There’s no such thing. That tells me everything I need to know about the Miami Dolphins locker room and how we got here and why we got here.
“I grew up in rural south Georgia … ask your parents, ask your grandparents the mountain they climbed to allow a black person in America to have respect, to have dignity … It’s unacceptable. I’m so disappointed. I’m embarrassed for the Dolphins.”
Not often do I turn that big a chunk of this column over to someone else’s comments, but rarely does someone put it on the line as Sharpe did. I repeated his words, but I can’t recreate his passion. If you didn’t see it, try an Internet search. It will be easy to find.
The other reason, truthfully, is that my first reaction to the Incognito-Martin story mirrored Sharpe’s, albeit with more disbelief than his understandable anger.
As to our multiple choice, I don’t know the answer. It’s probably not as cut and dried as presented. I imagine there is a good deal we don’t know, that multiple parties are at fault, and that the NFL’s investigation, if transparent as promised, will clear up a lot of it.
But I don’t believe that what we’ve heard about the Dolphins’ locker room, leadership and front office is representative of the NFL’s culture.
Sure, there is a fairly harmless tradition of rookie hazing not too unlike a college freshman being made to sing his high school fight song or a high school freshman having to carry the equipment bag. It’s an indoctrination; a form of bonding, of earning a spot in the room.
The psychological bullying, threats and racial overtones that accompany this sad saga are not and never should be a part of it.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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