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Sports Commentary 11/6/13 – The Soft Underbelly

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Phoot Credit: Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images Sport

Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images Sport

THE UNDERBELLY OF THE “CULTURE” CLUB

I am not reversing my opinion from yesterday, condemning the actions of Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who unmercifully bullied fellow lineman Jonathan Martin into retirement.  There will never be any excuse for his actions or his methods, regardless of his motives.  Incognito went to extremes that cannot go unpunished, including using racial slurs and issuing threats against family members.

The only thing that has changed since yesterday morning is we now know Incognito may have been acting under orders from Dolphins coaches, whom the South Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting, wanted Incognito to toughen Martin up.  Reportedly they were unhappy with a detected softness in the lineman.

We shouldn’t be surprised by such a revelation.  The Dolphins bullying case is just the latest incident fostered by the culture that exists in the National Football League.  It’s the same culture that just two years ago led to the “bounty” scandal with the New Orleans Saints, in which Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams operated a slush fund to pay bonuses for in-game performances that led to opposing players being forced out of action.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may see himself as being between a rock and a hard place in this latest incident, a player again acting under orders from a coach, but he set his own precedent, leaving himself with just one direction to take.

For the actions he knows Incognito is guilty of, documented in telephone tapes, text messages and e-mails, he must uphold Incognito’s suspension, without pay, while a full investigation is undertaken.  If there is any validity to the allegations in the newspaper report every coach involved must be held accountable.  As serious as he took the “bounty-gate” scandal, Goodell has to treat this situation more seriously.  In handing out the penalties to those involved in the New Orleans incident Goodell held head coach Sean Payton personally responsible, handing him a one year suspension while Williams was suspended indefinitely with a stipulation that he must petition the league for reinstatement.

A number of Saints players were also suspended but those suspensions were later overturned by an arbitrator, who ruled they were acting under orders.  In announcing the penalties Goodell said he “Would not tolerate conduct or culture that put players safety at risk.”  If he fails to hand out penalties at least as severe as those in the bounty scandal Goodell would be denying that a players mental and emotional safety can be put just as much in harm’s way as his physical safety.

Society at large needs more severe action in this case because bullying is a problem that schools, parents and young people everywhere deal with every day.  If the allegations are born out the penalties should begin with head coach Joe Philbin, who’s suspension should be followed by the same petition process Gregg Williams was subjected to and he should be required to work his way back up the coaching ranks on a “good behavior” basis.

The coaches directly involved should face at least the same penalty, for not having the good sense to know they were unleashing a loose cannon.  The suspension to Incognito should stand, though, under the circumstances, acting under orders, it should be made probationary, at least one year without pay, during which he undergoes regular therapy, his return dependent on his ability to earn it, proving to a team he can still be a productive, and well-behaved, member of their football society.  It’s hard to believe an arbitrator would overturn a penalty to the player in this case, regardless of the fact he was taking orders.  Richie Incognito crossed his own lines.

To date this is the most serious situation Roger Goodell has dealt with. He has to treat it as such.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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