Last week, the Buffalo Bills inked Richie Incognito to a one-year contract– sneakily, in the slowest news portion of the season: February, the closest thing to a Black Op in NFL terms.
Incognito fought his way back into the league after a suspension, release from the Miami Dolphins and devastating investigation into his locker-room kingpin-ship which, when released by Ted Wells, seemed to put a Mortal Kombat finishing move on the Offensive Lineman’s career. The report details such harsh, catty situations I found it nearly comical – “Mean Girls”-esque – until I realized he did it with seriousness.
At first, I thought of how nice it was that Icognito is receiving a second chance. In fact, Incognito’s received more chances than you may think.
Chance One: University of Nebraska
In 2002, while a Cornhusker, Incognito became a historically good offensive lineman. But then he began acting out. He was accused of spitting on an opponent, was ejected from one game and made a major contribution to a loss for his team when he hit an opponent well after the whistle.
After inciting a fight at practice the next spring, the head coach dismissed him from the team and he enrolled in an anger management treatment facility.
Chance Two: University of Nebraska II: The Locker Room Brawl
Returning from treatment, Incognito was re-instated and played well.
Then, in February, he appeared in court and received a guilty verdict on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a fight at a party. In September, after being named a top candidate for the nation’s best center award, he received another suspension for repeated violations of team rules which culminated when Incognito fought a teammate in the locker room. He withdrew from Nebraska shortly thereafter.
Chance Three: University of Oregon
Incognito transferred to Eugene, but only occupied a football roster spot for one week. The coach there said Incognito failed to meet conditions set-up prior to his arrival. While the coach didn’t elaborate, a few of Incognito’s requirements were to complete anger management courses and adhere to strict codes of conduct.
Chance Four: St. Louis Rams I: Toga Times
After Oregon, Incognito entered the NFL Draft and fell into the 3rd round where the St. Louis Rams selected him. In his third season, one year after establishing a consistent starting job, Incognito injured his knee and missed the remainder of the season. A report shortly after detailed Incognito’s intense partying habits, including bashes nearly every night.
Chance Four and a Half: I’d Like To Thank The Academy
Just prior to the 2009 season, Incognito was voted NFL’s “dirtiest player” by a poll of his peers. I don’t know how much stock a front office puts in these polls, but it seems as if a team would at least note one of its players is disliked greatly by his peers.
Chance Five: St. Louis Rams II: The Penalties
In one game he drew three penalties and paid $35,000 in fines. His violations were repeated verbal abuse of a game official, a “major face mask,” and an illegal, dangerous blocking penalty. It tried on Rams management and would lead to further action against Incognito.
Chances Six and Seven: St. Louis Rams III: The Final Go Around
Incognito used up two chances here because of how many warnings he received from the Rams front office. He started all nine games he played in. The opening game of the season, after being flagged for two penalties against the Seattle Seahawks, he saw the bench for losing his composure. Then, on December 13, he was penalized twice more, both of which were 15 yarders for head-butting Tennessee Titans players. In the second half, his coach, Steve Spagnuolo, confronted him and the two engaged in heated verbal spat. Two days later, Incognito received a $50,000 fine from the NFL along with a letter of warning that said “future infractions of the types you have committed may lead to increased disciplinary action up to and including suspension.” Oh, and he also received a pink slip. The Rams released him that day.
Chance Eight: A Look at the First Half
In surveying Incognito’s career up until this point, you see his Rams career, from 2006 until 2009. He drew 38 penalties, including seven unnecessary roughness calls. He led the league in both categories.
Chance Nine: Buffalo Bills I: You Can’t Sit With Us
After his release from the Rams, the Buffalo Bills picked up Incognito. He played right guard on the 12th-best offensive line in football, according to Football Outsiders. He also blocked for Fred Jackson’s 212-yard rushing performance that season. Despite these pluses on his résumé, the Bills pulled the ultimate Mean Girls move and declined to re-sign him.
Chance Ten: Miami Dolphins I: The Subtle Hint
Incognito remained out of trouble for 24 months – his longest stretch since high school. But Richard Seymour punched Incognito in a December 2011 game. Maybe Incognito hadn’t changed.
Chances Eleven: Miami Dolphins I: The Incident Too Inappropriate for Me to Poke Fun At
Then, things went horribly wrong two seasons later.
In 2012, during a team celebrity golf tournament, an inebriated Incognito harassed a female club volunteer.
A police report filed by the victim went like this:
“(Incognito) used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying ‘Let it rain! Let it rain!’ and he finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face.”
Despite this, coach Joe Philbin said the team took immediate action, but did not elaborate further.
Later that season, he won the Pro Football Writers 2012 Good Guy Award for Miami with teammate Reggie Bush. This award is given to the player(s) who assists the media to help best do its job.
Chances Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen: The Explosion
This is where it all blew up. Spectacular, high-arching, bright, audience-captivating, conversation-starting, media-consuming, reputation-smithereening explosions.
I won’t bother to re-hash the incident in full, but here are the highlights of the media firestorm from which shrapnel tore through everyone involved, forcing some out of jobs and leaving many with no face to save.
It started when another offensive lineman on Dolphins, Jonathan Martin, left the team in November of 2013 because he felt afraid of retribution for speaking out about bullying from Incognito.
There was a trip to Vegas Icognito stuck Martin with the bill for, threats on Martin’s family and disturbing, hateful, racist text messages which Incognito sent to Martin. The worst is detailed here.
On November 3, 2013, the Dolphins indefinitely suspended Incognito.
Chance Sixteen: Out of the NFL I: Berserk in a Bar
While suspended from the NFL, Incognito hung around in a Fort Lauderdale pool hall with his friend and old teammate Mike Pouncey. He drops N-bombs, F-bombs and looks like a ticking time bomb in the video. This was November, while Incognito was supposed to be in anger management counseling and other rehabilitation facilities.
P.S. This is the first video leakage that TMZ would use to slowly erode the enamel of league-associated approval many NFL players receive. (TMZ would later break every piece of footage on Ray Rice.)
Chance Seventeen: NFL Re-Instatement: Backstreet’s Back
On February 4, 2014, Incognito was cleared by the NFL to become an active player again, free to sign with whatever team he liked.
The New York Times wrote an article with a lead “Are any N.F.L. teams in the market for a player who was found to have engaged in serial harassment?”
Many assumed Incognito was done.
Chance Eighteen: Buffalo Bills II: Operation Incognito
As I detailed above, he’s back in the NFL. Another team thinks they can fix him. (Here’s what he said to convince Buffalo.)
Legally, no one can dispute what the Bills did, but in a time for the NFL where it needs to minimize black eyes to its reputation more than ever, this is the worst possible move.
Last fall, I argued against the excommunication of Ray Rice from the National Football League.
I argued this purely from a legal standpoint. If Rice finds employment in the NFL this season, then so be it. He paid his due, went through re-habilitation and earned a second chance.
A second chance.
Icognito used up that one a decade ago.
Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.