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Hadley: Don’t blame Incognito alone (Nov. 11)

Greg Hadley | Sunday, November 10, 2013

Assigning blame can be a tricky thing, but accepting it can be even harder.
That’s all I could think as I read about Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito this weekend.
Who is to blame for what happened? Is it Incognito, his teammates, coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins organization, or the culture of the NFL in general?
Or did all of these people collectively fail to recognize that Martin is a troubled young man who never should have had to deal with what he did? Trips to Las Vegas, mandatory strip club meetings, cafeteria confrontations, threatening text messages and racist epithets should not be part of any young player’s experience. It is no wonder Martin could not take it anymore. Any healthy, happy person would be pushed to the limit by such harassment.
Nobody, not even Incognito, is disputing what happened. Even so, there has been a groundswell of support for him from the Dolphins locker room with the underlying implication that Martin overreacted. General manager Jeff Ireland even went so far as to say that Martin should have dealt with his problems by punching Incognito instead of looking to others for support. When Martin turned over the threatening texts and voicemails to the NFL, many said Martin was dealing with his problems in a cowardly way.
Incognito himself said in an interview with Fox Sports that although he regretted his use of vulgarities and racial slurs, he considers Martin a friend. He also said that within the culture of the locker room, such behavior is normal. He added that Martin even sent him a threatening text message in the past as a joke.
When it comes to assigning blame, it is not at all clear that Incognito is the only one at fault. Certainly, his actions were reprehensible. Still, the problem goes beyond him.
If his teammates support him so strongly, it is obvious they do not think his actions were all that bad. And if executives say Martin should have handled his problems in-house, they must not want to be bothered by player complaints. The entire culture of the Dolphins franchise, from the locker room to the board room, deserves as much scrutiny as Incognito has faced.
When it comes to accepting blame, no one involved is interested in taking full responsibility. Incognito apologized for using vulgarity but credited it to the locker room’s atmosphere. Philbin said he is responsible for that atmosphere but apparently had no idea what Martin was enduring. Dolphins players blamed Martin for not taking care of his problems, without admitting that maybe, just maybe, they are the problem.
Martin himself apparently never went to Philbin to complain before he finally broke down. Now he has started an NFL investigation that could possibly end a teammate’s career and embroil a franchise in scandal. According to Incognito, Martin sent him a text message saying he did not blame his teammates but instead, the culture.
The bottom line is that whatever happens, Incognito is the perfect scapegoat. There is incriminating, shocking evidence against him. His character witnesses are other NFL players. You know, the ones that voted him the dirtiest player in the NFL in 2009. And now it is coming to light that in 2012, Incognito was accused of harassing and molesting a female Dolphins employee at a golf tournament.
In the end, Incognito will probably be suspended for a season or two at least. Beyond that, Ireland might lose his job for his punching suggestion. Martin might return to play football, and the media hoopla will die down. But things won’t change, because the Dolphins and the NFL will blame the system, the culture and the atmosphere, but never actually admit that they make that culture.
When teammates and executives say it would have been better for Martin to confront Incognito, they perpetuate a locker-room culture where people who are afraid of speaking out never will. Martin suffered abuse for a year and a half before he finally broke free. While Philbin wonders why Martin never came to complain, perhaps he should instead wonder how accessible and in charge he really is.
So, in the end, Richie Incognito will probably be assigned all of the blame and accept most of it. If only others would do the same.
Contact Greg Hadley at ghadley@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.