It's been quite a year for the NFL, and I'm not talking about on the field. Off the field, the soap opera has been depressingly interesting (or interestingly depressing, depending on how you look at it).
For starters, you had an offseason crime spree by players (and even some front office folks, what up Denver Broncos?) that was so prolific that it made previous offseasons seem downright safe by comparison. The collective NFL rap sheet was highlighted by a murder charge to the tight end of one of the league's marquee teams, and a trial that is still ongoing. Sweet.
You have the back and forth struggle between the league and former players over concussion fallout, a battle the league hoped would go away by cutting a $750 million check, but thanks in part to a recent documentary exposing a rampant, decades long cover up by the NFL, it probably isn't ever going away.
And now you have locker room bullying, or as mob soldiers might call it, "this Richie Incognito thing."
And yet television ratings and revenue streams have never been higher. Man, when it comes to maintaining its popularity, this league has been one big, $9 billion heat check!
Certainly, front and center lately has been Incognito and his alleged bullying of teammate Jonathan Martin, which has now bled into a racial territory that transcends just the garden variety "preying on the weak" (which reminds me, speaking of racism, did I mention Riley Cooper earlier? No? Well, RILEY COOPER!). Incognito's sordid past is well documented, going all the way back to his days at Nebraska in the early 2000's and culminating, up until recently, with Texans defensive end Antonio Smith attempting to play whack-a-mole with his helmet and Incognito's face over continued dirty play in a preseason game.
If you believe Jonathan Martin, a second year offensive lineman out of Stanford and Incognito's teammate who recently left the team over this issue, Incognito has repeatedly bullied him since Martin arrived there after the 2012 draft, to the extent that Incognito left voicemail messages calling Martin a "half [racial slur]," promising to defecate in his mouth, and promising unspeakable acts on Martin's family.
If you believe Incognito...well, hey, rather than lay out Incognito's story, I'll let you be the judge. Incognito told his story in a recorded interview with FOX's Jay Glazer that aired Sunday morning. Here it is, followed by Zapruder style analysis.
Oh, and before you watch this, you need to know that Jay Glazer has a business relationship with Richie Incognito. As he's done with several NFL players, Glazer has mentored Incognito in MMA style training during the offseason to help forward his football career. This is great for Glazer when it comes to having accurate and timely sources on scooping NFL stories. This is horrific for Glazer when it comes to evaluating an interview he conducts as being even remotely objective.
Also, the jump cuts and highly edited nature of this recorded interview don't help either.
Ok, let's go...
Incognito: You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins locker room, who had Jon Martin's back the absolute most? And they will undoubtedly tell you, me.
I don't know about "anybody," but a handful of Dolphins players that spoke on the record came out in defense of Richie Incognito, the most prominent of whom were quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Mike Wallace -- a second year quarterback and a brand new free agent signee. As we go through this interview, I want you to keep in mind the importance of leadership and who sets the tone in the most harmonious, grounded locker rooms. Typically, it's the head coach, it's the quarterback, it might be a grizzled longtime veteran. I also want you to keep in mind who the Miami Dolphins are. They're a transient team built on a lot of high dollar free agents, several young players, with a head coach who is as middle manager flimsy as there is in the NFL, like Michael Scott with a whistle and without a conch shell. Let's continue...
Glazer: You're saying you don't know what led to this, your teammates are saying we don't know. His side has clearly said we do know. OK, and there's bullying involved. There was a voice message left. I'm going to read it to you. You did leave this voice message?
Incognito: Yes, I did leave this voice message.
Glazer: And it's, 'Hey what's up, you half N word piece of blank. I saw you on Twitter, you been training ten weeks. Want to blank in your blank mouth. I'm going to slap blank mouth. Going to slap your real mother across the face. Laughter. You're still a rookie. I'll kill you.' You hear that, going back to that now, do you look at that and say, 'I left that for Jonathan Martin?'
Incognito: When I see that voicemail, when I see those words come up across the screen, I'm embarrassed by it. I'm embarrassed by my actions. But what I want people to know is, the way Jonathan and the rest of the offensive line and how our teammates how we communicate, it's vulgar. It's, it's not right. When the words are put in the context, I understand why a lot of eyebrows get raised, but people don't know how Jon and I communicate to one another.
Actually, now they do know how you communicate with each other, Richie. If you feel like you've heard this mea culpa or "seen this movie before," it's because this is the Riley Cooper press conference all over again, only instead of a physically fit, long haired redneck doing it outside the team's facility, it's a fat, tatt-covered sociopath sitting in the Wilshire Beverly Hills. The common theme is that both Cooper and Incognito make it sound like they were having an out of body experience at the time they used these words.
Also, I've privately asked a few offensive linemen that I know if this is how they communicate. I got many eye rolls in the process, so thanks for that, Richie. This might be how the communication goes in the Dolphins locker room, at least as perceived by Richie Incognito. Hey, have I mentioned that Richie Incognito is on the Dolphins' team leadership council? Yeah, so there's that...
Glazer: But there's one thing of saying that, another thing with a white man using the "N" word. How do you tell America, how do you expect anybody in America to believe you're not a racist.
Incognito: I am not a racist. And to judge me by that one word is wrong. In no way shape or form is it ever acceptable for me to use that word even if it's friend to friend on a voicemail. I regret that.
By "to judge me by that one word," Incognito can only mean one of two things: either a) he means his general use of that one word, perpetual use of which by definition makes him a racist, or b) his using that word "just this one time" in that voicemail message, which I refuse to believe is the only time Richie Incognito has uttered that awful epithet.
Glazer: How much in today's locker room is it thrown around by African Americans and white players?
Incognito: It's thrown around a lot. It's a word that I've heard Jon use a lot. Not saying it's right for when I did it in the voicemail, but there's a lot of colorful words thrown around the locker room that we don't use in everyday life. The fact of the matter remains, though, that that voicemail was left as a private voicemail for my friend, and it was a joke.
Maybe in a locker room where Richie Incognito is looked up to as a leader, it's thrown around, but I'll let Shannon Sharpe handle this one...
I see this video, and it makes me refuse to believe that the rampant use of the n-word occurs in most NFL locker rooms. Well, most NFL locker rooms that don't count the Richie Incognito types as "leaders."
Glazer: Did Jonathan Martin overreact? Or Jonathan was hurting that much?
Incognito: I can't sit here and tell you who overreacted, who did what; I can just sit here and be accountable for my actions. And my actions were coming from a place of love. No matter how bad and how vulgar it sounds, that's how we communicate, that's how our friendship was, and those are the facts and that's what I'm accountable for.
This is where the interview got creepy, when the word "love" was brought into the mix. This is where Richie Incognito began sounding like a husband who repeatedly and secretly abuses his spouse, like Eddie Haskell meets Christopher Moltisanti.
Glazer: There's so many subplots in this. How much has come out, where you looked at it and said ... 'That's not even close'?
Incognito: I think the whole thing, I've been sitting here saying, 'That's not even close.' It sounds terrible. It sounds, when it's on the screen, it sounds like I'm a racist pig, it sounds like I'm a meathead. It sounds a lot of things that it's not. And I want to clear the air just by saying I'm a good person.
It does sound like you're a meathead, Richie. And here's the thing -- I actually don't think Richie Incognito is a meathead. A meathead wouldn't be such a bad guy off the field and so dirty on the field and still find a way to stay in the league and have supportive teammates. That actually takes a smart person, a manipulative person, and by definition you almost need to be smart to be manipulative. There are very few devious people who are stupid.
Glazer: You obviously have had a very checkered history. From way back in college all the way up to recently with last year with the incident at the golf course. You're sitting up here and saying, 'Hey, I'm a good guy.' It's difficult for us, as America, to grasp that when all they see are the episodes.
Incognito: Right, no question. And if you go by just all the knucklehead stuff I've pulled in the past, done in my past, you're sitting in your home and you're thinking this guy is a loose cannon, this guy is a terrible person, this guy is a racist. When that couldn't be farther from the truth. If I was a racist and I was bullying Jon Martin, when the press went in there and asked them questions, that locker room would have said listen we saw this we saw that. I'm proud of my guys for having my back and telling the truth. But the fact of the matter is when Jon left the team on Monday, we played a game on Thursday. I spoke with Jon on Friday.
Riiiight, players would have ratted you out if you were being terrible or racist, Richie. Because clearly the NFL is an environment that embraces whistle blowers and doesn't cast them aside at all. Just ask Jonathan Martin. Oh wait, that's right. There have been copious amounts of actual debate over whether or not Martin is in the wrong here. That's right. I forgot.
Glazer: You spoke with him?
Incognito: I texted with him, I text messaged, I spoke with him through text message. And he texted me and said I don't blame you guys I blame some stuff in the locker room, I blame the culture. I blame what was going on around me. And when all this stuff got going and swirling and bullying got attached to it and my name got attached to it. I just texted him as a friend and was like what's up with this man. He said its not coming from me, I haven't said anything to anybody. And I'm like ok.
"Spoke with him through text message." I try and pass texts off as actual conversation, too, Richie. It doesn't work.
Glazer: Would these be texts you would be willing to share?
Incognito: No question. Ill give you, after this interview I'll give you my phone. And we'll walk through all these texts, and I will show you the framework of a friendship.
Ok, I now want to Zapruder the inbox of Richie Incognito's phone. Also, I believe we are still waiting on this framework he speaks of.
Glazer: If Jonathan Martin was sitting right here next to you, what would you say to him?
Incognito: I think, honestly, I think I'd give him a big hug right now because we've been through so much and I'd be like, dude what's going on? Why didn't you come to me? If he were to say listen, you took it way to far, you hurt me. You know I would just apologize and explain to him exactly what I just explained to you, and I'd apologize to his family, they took it as malicious. I never meant it that way.
And if you're looking for the part where this sham of an interview crossed over from being topically related to the NFL to being the next step in an intricate, over the top WWE angle where Incognito winds up luring the passive Martin back in as his friend and tag team partner before lowering the boom on him and giving him a heel turn style beatdown, it was when the words "I'd give him a big hug" were uttered.
Ultimately, my take away on Richie Incognito's side of the story is that Incognito's public relations firm prepared him well. Ridiculously well. So well that it was blatantly obvious that Incognito clearly used a public relations firm.
Do I think Richie Incognito is a jerk, a punk, a loser? Yes. Yes. Yes.
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To call Incognito's modus operandi a "leadership style" actually diminishes real leaders, but in the Dolphins' warped locker room, people look up to this idiot. This is what happens when you have a coach with no spine and a general manager who is universally disrespected around the league.
There is a leadership vacuum in Miami, and it's been filled by the worst kind of person.
It's been filled by an asshole bully.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.