Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins lineman, has, in the space of a few weeks, gone from publicly reviled to a man with defenders on all sides. Here is a message to all of Incognito’s apologists: stop, you look ignorant, racist or both.
In case you need some catching up, Richie Incognito has been suspended by the Dolphins after leaving this message on biracial teammate Jonathan Martin’s voicemail (text procured by ESPN.com):
"Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."
Yikes. But hold on, say Incognito’s defenders, context is everything. You have to understand what kind of guy he is to understand the voicemail. Dolphins’ lineman Tyson Clabo explained Incognito this way (emphasis added):
"What's perceived is that he was a racist, psychopath maniac. The reality is Richie was a good teammate, and that Richie and Jonathan Martin were friends, or appeared to be."
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill went further (emphasis added):
"All I know about Richie is he's a great teammate to me," Tannehill said. "I saw him being a great teammate all the time. Does he like to give guys a hard time? Yes. Does he like to pester guys and have fun? Yes. But he brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness to this locker room and he was the best teammate that I could ask for."
Tannehill also added that Incognito was Martin’s “best friend on the team.”
People tend to go overboard when defending their friends. It’s human nature. But seriously, “the best teammate you could ask for?” The guy who calls his teammate a racial slur?
This is the first defense for anyone defending racist speech: make it about who the person is, not what they did. Incognito is a loud mouth guy who gives people a hard time, and he probably gets on people’s nerves a lot, but, ideally, ultimately helps bring people together. That doesn’t change what he did, which was over the line.
And as long as we’re bringing in the context of Incognito’s character into this, it seems like he crosses the line all the time. Warren Sapp, an African American quarterback said that Incognito called him the n-word.
“You are what you are, I guess,” said Antonio Smith of the Houston Texans, referring to Incognito’s offensive behavior. “That doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
Everyone knows that an NFL locker room is a unique culture, but there is no excuse for racial slurs. From Incognito’s history, we know that this wasn’t a one-time incident. The people defending Richie Incognito need to stop thinking about who he is for a moment, and ask themselves if they are okay with what he did.