After a disastrous year for the NFL, Incognito’s acts now seem harmless

NFL

After a season in which its player conduct policy, disciplinary procedures and overall management scheme was called into justifiable question, the NFL is undoubtedly happy to have one of the most trying campaigns in recent memory over and done with.

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald were just a few of the names that found themselves in the headlines for something other than a touchdown, an interception, a sack or a moment on the field. The Super Bowl had its own series of issues with the New England Patriots spending much of the ramp up to the game defending themselves against still-unresolved accusations that they intentionally deflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game; Marshawn Lynch refusing to say anything other than, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined”; the Seattle Seahawks unprofessional and borderline repulsive behavior during the game itself and as they threw an embarrassing teamwide tantrum after they lost; and the aftermath of the game in which three separate players who weren’t involved in the Super Bowl – Joseph RandleD’Qwell Jackson and Letroy Guion – were arrested on a variety of offenses that only added to the league’s woes.

The series of embarrassments that the league and commissioner Roger Goodell had to endure and are still in the process of navigating have obscured what had been a “major” controversy that drew worldwide attention and commentary in 2013, former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and the accusations of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin up and left the team. In hindsight, everything that happened since has minimized the Incognito-Martin episode, accusations and complaints into what Incognito and many others portrayed it to be: athletes who took locker room horseplay and went too far with it to the point where Martin quit and Incognito was essentially fired from the team and blackballed from the NFL for an unofficial yearlong suspension.

Incognito’s behavior, while misanthropic and destructive to both himself and his team, was nothing compared to what’s happened with a troubling number of players since. It certainly wasn’t enough for him to have to sit out an entire season while he could still contribute somewhere. Several teams considered signing him, but none did making it a clear question as to whether there was a whisper campaign against him.

For a player like Incognito to return to the league, he needed one of two things: a no-nonsense coach who would put him on notice that he had one strike to play with and if he misbehaved in any way, he’d be gone; or a coach who he’d respect and would be freewheeling enough to make clear to Incognito that there was a certain standard of behavior even when it came to off-field goofing around and if that was violated, he’d be gone.

With the news that Incognito is close to signing with the Buffalo Bills, he’s getting the latter in Rex Ryan. While in Miami, head coach Joe Philbin put forth the impression of the substitute teacher so worried about keeping his job and intimidated by the possibility that the players would simply ignore him if he cracked down that it was easier to look the other way. Ryan is so worshiped by his players that if he’s betrayed, it could be seen as a hurtful affront to the trust he’s placed in those under his charge to protect him as he protects them.

In the linked article detailing the Bills’ pending signing of Incognito, it’s mentioned that Ryan, when speaking at his introductory press conference as the new head coach, said that he was going to “build a bully.” Obviously, that was a poor choice of words given the negative connotations with bullying today and that the league has been trying to put a damper on the hazing that was once an ingrained rite of passage for new players in the league. He certainly didn’t sign Incognito with the idea that he wanted people who had reputations as bullies.

Incognito did some stupid things while he was with the Dolphins and his reputation prior to that was terrible. Now that he’s getting his second chance and playing for a coach who will allow a wide range of personalities on his team to be themselves, he won’t want to blow that with similar acts that got him tossed from the Dolphins and the rest of football for a full season-and-a-half. Considering what’s happened to the league, its players and its commissioner in the time since Incognito was a household name for all the wrong reasons, it’s nothing and he deserves another chance without having to apologize anymore.

Advertisements

Damon Bruce’s Rant (Who’s Damon Bruce?)

Football, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Politics

I didn’t know who Damon Bruce was prior to about an hour ago. In fact, when I went to have dinner and came back to my Mac to Twitter-search his name, I mistakenly referred to him as “Buford.”

The name “Damon Bruce” brought me back to my days of writing fiction as I began formulating a method to describe a character to fit the name. My version of Damon Bruce would be wearing denim overalls and no shirt. He’d have a corncob pipe in his mouth as he sat on a tree stump holding between his legs a two-tone bottle of moonshine with the “XX” emblazoned across its front. His eyes would be crossed, his head titled toward the sky and the corners of his lips would be in downward curl as he gazed toward the sky. There might be a thought bubble above his head with the universal sign of thoughtlessness/blissful drunkenness: ***. His hair and goatee would be identical to what they are in reality.

The world is quick to take what they deem offensive or what they’ve been told is offensive by those who have been offended and twist it into a way to write a blog posting, go on a tangent or bolster themselves by using it (whatever “it” is) as a catalyst. Women who are insulted are fainting as if they’re a Southern belle caricature and have the vapors. Men are responding with a “how dare you?!?” tone as if they really care one way or the other. If Bruce were in a position of authority like a newspaper editor or program director, I can see the offense taken. He’s a guy looking for attention and is getting it.

You can listen to Bruce’s radio rant below:

After listening to it, I’m not sure of its purpose other than for him to get his name out there for those who – like me – had no idea who he was. It was poorly organized from the start and if one is going to intentionally build up a chain reaction controversy, it would be better executed if it wasn’t so blatant. Comparing the content provided by women in comparison to men is a silly foundation to complain about given the state of media as a whole. Male or female, the majority of supposed sportswriters don’t know much of anything to begin with and can’t write very well. It’s not women; it’s not men; it’s everyone.

Bruce played the Jerry Sandusky card when comparing the abuse that Jonathan Martin supposedly suffered at the hands of his Dolphins teammates. Without a legitimate context, this should be completely off-limits when making any kind of comparison and wanting to keep one’s job on the radio.

And that’s the key: Bruce works on the radio in San Francisco. The Martin-Richie Incognito case appeared to be what sparked this bizarre rant and that case is about lines and at what point they’re being crossed. No matter what happened and who’s completely at fault – and we really don’t know the full extent of the story yet – it was about lines more than anything else. The lines between what the coaches said and meant when they allegedly told Incognito to toughen Martin up; the lines between how far the players should have gone separating conventional team goofing and abuse; the lines between what would be acceptable. For a radio host working in one of the most liberal and intolerant cities in the world when it comes to misogyny, homophobia and racism, it’s clear that Bruce doesn’t understand the difference between drumming up some attention and saying things that will, at best, get him suspended. At worst, he’ll be fired.

If this wasn’t a planned and desperate plea for attention and Bruce had left out the gender-related commentary by saying, “Everyone is being too sensitive because this story has blown up to the degree it has. This stuff has been going on forever. All those billions of NFL fans who watch with rapt attention and spend gobs of money every week acting indignantly because the Martin case is such an affront to their delicate sensibilities are only responding because the cover has been violently ripped off of the realities of what happens in some NFL lockerrooms.”

There’s a case for that and it can be made intelligently, without having to resort to the cheap tactics that Bruce used. Now, instead of a furthering of the discussion, Bruce got the attention he wanted and he might lose his job because of it.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

The Jonathan Martin Case Puts the NFL in a Precarious Situation

CBA, Draft, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects

Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins having left the team due to what’s been referred to as locker room bullying has put the NFL in a delicate situation on how to regulate their players.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Martin would be declared weak and told that if he wanted to be an NFL player, he had to toughen up. As a former second round draft pick, the young offensive tackle has obvious value. He’s 6’5”, 310 pounds and teams don’t waste second round draft picks on players they’ll dispose of for a solvable problem. If this had happened before the NFL tried to become such a fan-friendly entity with crossover appeal, it’s doubtful it would have been a story at all.

Times are different. The simplistic approach says that when dealing with a group mentality with people in an aggressive, high-pressure environment, the way to put a stop to this type of behavior is to handle it physically. Fights within a sports team happen all the time whether they’re reported or not. The only time they are reported are when they occur in public or there’s an injury of some sort. Other than that, they’re occasionally necessary to clear out bad blood or, as in Martin’s case, to make his teammates cease being so abusive.

Could Martin have taken the supposed ringleader, Richie Incognito and given him a beating to send a message to him and the rest of the team to knock it off? Incognito is about the same size as Martin, but usually just the effort is enough to make a bully back away.

Perhaps Martin doesn’t want to resort to that.

Martin went to Stanford and both of his parents are attorneys who went to Harvard. When a physical confrontation is necessary, it’s not fear that stops the more cerebral and intelligent person from acting. It’s the potential consequences and weighing the results that keeps them from taking that step.

“What if I really hurt him?

“What if I go to jail?”

“Do I want to play this game if it makes me into something I’m not?”

They’re legitimate questions.

For whatever reason, Martin chose to take a different route and walked away. The whole episode is being portrayed as “Martin was picked on and he left the team.” It might not be that at all. No one knows the whole story. It could be a combination of issues that led to his departure. Whether or not he’ll be back is up to him.

To believe that the intra-team treatment of players is an isolated incident is naïve at best and stupid at worst.

The public response to a cellphone video that Giants punter Steve Weatherford made of Prince Amukamara being dumped into ice water by Jason Pierre-Paul was indicative of the culture. Weatherford posted it on Twitter and it became an “incident.” Was this hazing? Was it bullying?

If it’s guys goofing around, it’s one thing. If it reaches the level where the target doesn’t want to come to work, it’s another. It’s hard to blame the players because how are they supposed to know when to stop if there’s not a baseline criteria and standards of which action is in what category?

There’s a fine line between hazing and abusiveness. There’s also a fine line between looking like the school kid saying “I’m telling on you” to have it handled by a person in position of power and reporting a workplace violation. Many times, telling the boss or the teacher or the police about it is going to make matters worse. In the case of the Dolphins, what precisely is coach Joe Philbin going to do about it? He’s not exactly intimidating and doesn’t have the personality of someone the players will be frightened of. Much has been made of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and his staff violating what’s supposed to be a “players only” sanctuary of the locker room with spies and perceived inappropriate venturing into their territory. If the coaches aren’t supposed to go in there, then they’re not supposed to mess with the hierarchy of the room and any rituals that might go on either.

In the Giants incident, coach Tom Coughlin said that he didn’t know about it until he was told and would take care of it. Rest assured he did. Will Philbin? Or will he hem and haw and be wishy-washy about it hoping it goes away? Would anyone be scared enough to listen if he told them to stop?

A strong-handed head coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a stern, glowering taskmaster like Coughlin or Mike Tomlin; it doesn’t have to be someone whose personality permeates the room and the players know he’ll be ruthless in dealing with a problem as Jimmy Johnson was. Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren are soft-spoken puffballs, but the players know they’re in charge. And that’s without mentioning the Emperor Palpatine of the NFL, Bill Belichick.

With a coach, it comes down to this: Is it affecting the team? Since Martin left, it’s affecting the team, therefore it’s a problem that must be addressed. Other than that, they probably wouldn’t notice if they knew about it at all.

Given the nature of this story and the mere use of the word “bullying,” it puts the NFL in a precarious position on how to proceed. The NFL is taking part in anti-bullying campaigns and trying to educate young people on why not to do it and what to do if it does happen. So what is the NFL’s recourse if it’s happening with one of their own franchises to the point that the player who was reportedly subjected to the bullying got up and left?

The NFL Players Association is looking into it and there’s no doubt that Commissioner Roger Goodell is monitoring this closely. In combination with the league-wide efforts to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and that it’s making the league look bad, this happening so publicly will get some results. Whether it will stop throughout the league is the question. The answer is probably no.

Like the code red in the Marine Corps and made famous in A Few Good Men, these hazing rituals are part of the culture. On some level, the players, coaches and participants might think it’s a necessary part of building a bond and indicates acceptance into the group. Once something happens to draw it into public scrutiny, there will be the pretense of responding to the issue to prevent it from happening again, then it will be forgotten about. It’s been part of the dynamic forever. One story about a football player who decided he’d had enough won’t alter that fact.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};