Sympathy For Richie Incognito?
I must admit that I have been inordinately drawn and attracted to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal. It has touched on everything from the n-word, race, mental health, bullying and football culture. But I’m more so fascinated by what this saga has revealed about the relationship between the sports public and the general public, both whose interests in forgiveness and retribution seem to be determined by our first impressions instead of understanding and evolving with introduction of new information. With the story coming full circle and hopefully to a final close, final justice for Incognito’s crimes seems to have come in the form of an internal explosion rather than quiet exile.
Bullies don’t make for good sympathetic figures, especially not when you're Incognito, who has become a symbol for myopic and backwards locker room culture.
But in about a three-week period, Incognito went from becoming the machismo-soaked villain who was largely responsible for a teammate having a breakdown to him needing the comfort of a mental rehabilitation facility. According to the Daily Mail, the former Miami Dolphins Guard is being held at an Arizona psychiatric facility under “involuntary psychiatric hold”. Although he checked in on his own volition, according to sources, his state of mind is such that they refused to let Incognito leave. This was just a few days removed from Incognito taking a baseball bat to his $300,000 Ferrari.
Chickens coming home to roost? Karma? Is he getting what he deserved? Poetic Justice?
Some will justify this as the universe righting a wrong and gaining retribution on behalf of Martin’s pain and suffering. The lack of civility Incognito showed in the locker room towards Martin is the same the public will show him. That feels a bit discomforting to me. Perhaps my sympathy is better served on someone who isn’t a millionaire athlete and a bully.
But I can’t help but acknowledge the inner turmoil that must be zipping through the mind of Incognito. His teammate, and a man whom he considered one of his best friends, is the direct cause of his unemployment, his public shame and the ridicule he’s receiving from all corners of the media. Making it even worse, Incognito was completely blindsided by all of it, and he never once considered he was doing any harm. While he was never innocent, if Incognito has that relationship with 98 percent of the players in the league, it doesn’t end with him being source of public shame. It is resolved. Through fists, complaints or even with him being ousted from the team.
This was absolutely a worst-case scenario for Incognito.
Now saddled with all that, Incognito has reached his breaking point. His parents are splitting, he’s unemployed and it may be awhile before someone is willing to employ him. Who wants a mentally weak, unstable, baggage-carrying player in their locker room (sound familiar)? But there is no sympathy for Incognito.
The public looked and judged Martin as a human being, before we cared or analyzed Martin the player. They also embraced his courage to seek mental help and shun the pain of the locker room. We embraced his story, because he could have been one of us. Incognito won’t be afforded such nuanced perspective, because he’s a cartoon character of our own creation — a representation of our fears from our elementary school playgrounds.
For once, we can slay the bully from afar. We can pepper him with insults on Twitter, message boards, daily talk shows and we, the sports public, can push the envelope as far as we see fit. We'll never call our own B.S. It's the privilege of the masses: create the target, hone in on it and snipe at it until it's pushed to the point of destruction.
But how far is too far?
Former Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard, raised an interesting question: At what point will Incognito garner our sympathy? Does he have to do harm to himself?
Barring tragedy, this will probably be the last we’ll hear from Incognito, bringing the story full circle. Incognito was most notable as a villain; unfortunately for Incognito, he’ll never matter to us as anything else.