Richie Incognito is the gift that keeps on giving to the NFL. At least if the gift is misery.
Now comes word that the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman has filed a grievance against the team, which has suspended him indefinitely for detrimental conduct. The Dolphins took this step after Incognito's interaction with fellow Miami lineman Jonathan Martin led to (A) Martin leaving the team with alleged emotional issues and (B) the rest of us learning that Incognito likes to use the "n" word, harass workmates and mouth off about "killing" people.
Given that most companies prefer not to have a person like Incognito on their payroll, his suspension seemed to make sense. But Incognito is utilizing his right under the NFL collective bargaining agreement to challenge the suspension. He wants an expedited hearing with a neutral arbitrator.
Great. I'm all for it. With one provision: Let's make certain that the NFL Network televises every moment of the hearing, with Martin and Incognito and every other relevant person testifying. Then we'll finally get a complete picture of how weird the Miami locker room culture was -- and perhaps still is.
In truth, the Incognito move is more about money than anything else. Under CBA rules, a "detrimental conduct" suspension can only be assessed for four weeks plus one additional game check. If Incognito serves the maximum, that would cost him approximately $1.3 million. He's only in his second week of his punishment, but he wants to push the Dolphins into declaring when the "indefinite" suspension will end -- or more likely, force them to release him so he can seek work with another NFL team.
(Note to the HR department for any team that does choose to hire Incognito: Boot up the sensitivity seminar and buy Prilosec for the instructor.)
So, yes, we should grant Incognito's wish, on live TV and unedited for everyone to see. It should provide a visual textbook for how not to conduct business in major league sports. There have been many stories written and snippets of rumors of gossip in the Martin-Incognito case. But it mostly has been a lot of noise. There have been few hard and salient and documented facts. Martin's people say he was hounded and treated poorly. Incognito and his people say his actions were misconstrued.
All of it has been confusing to football fans, especially if they have been listening to Incognito's side. They have learned that using the "n" word is not really using the "n" word if it happens inside an NFL locker room under certain circumstances. And they have learned that threatening to kill another guy's family is not really threatening to kill another guy's family.
Such a crock.
From here, this has not been so much about the big picture of bullying in America (although that's a worthwhile discussion) as it has been about one guy being a total jerk in the workplace and how his employer allowed him to profoundly alienate one fellow employee who didn't appreciate being around a jerk. I'm not sure what to make of those Dolphins players who are defending Incognito and claiming he has been misunderstood. But fine, let's get them into the hearing before the arbitrator renders his verdict.
When you are around professional locker rooms for a few decades, you see a lot of stuff. You see veterans giving rookies grief, most of it good-natured and designed to skewer egos left over from college years. You see pranks being pulled, with hotel room furniture being rearranged. You see a starting quarterback getting a little too drunk at training camp and being covered with shaving cream as he sleeps it off.
But always, always, a line has existed where the fun stops and crosses over into something sick. The good professionals know where the line is. Incognito apparently never received that memo. Nor did the Dolphins.
No, the NFL is not like most normal workplaces. Unless you take the field on Sundays in such a physically ridiculous profession, there is no way to understand exactly the pain and stress endured by players from week to week. But this does not excuse unchecked vileness. And when it comes to the "n" word . . . well, others have spoken more eloquently on the subject. But strictly from the standpoint of one middle-aged white guy who might be writing this column, it provokes a wince every time the word is spoken.
Here's why: Some of us grew up in places where even the supposed role models in our lives -- coaches and prominent businessmen -- freely used the "n" word in the most demeaning and racist fashion. So when we hear it used in an almost cavalier way by younger people of any race who claim it's not that big a deal, it makes us angry, knowing it could empower those backward-thinking people in our pasts to believe it also wasn't a big deal when they said the word.
Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst and former NFL receiver, brought up another good point -- that if one group of people inside a locker room are permitted to use the "n" word and another group is not, it sets up a wall around one group and damages the concept of a unified team effort.
So perhaps Collinsworth could be at the hearing, too, asking Incognito to discuss that issue. Bring in all the voices. During a Fox Sports interview last weekend, Incognito almost seemed to be proud of his behavior. Let's see what the arbitrator says in prime time.