What a depressing, dispiriting week in the NFL.
The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation is an embarrassment to the Miami Dolphins and the NFL, and gets worse with each hour that someone of authority doesn’t step up and condemn those hateful, despicable voice and text messages.
A quick review: After an apparent emotional breakdown, Martin, a second-year tackle, walked away from the team and his starting job. Incognito, a veteran guard, is believed to have harassed him with ugly messages that were threatening and bigoted. Incognito has been suspended indefinitely. Martin is on the non-football injury list.
By the way, it’s worth noting that we don’t know if Martin provided the messages to the NFL or the Dolphins, because neither he nor his family have publicly addressed the situation. How do we know that it wasn’t someone else, such as a family member, who saw or heard those messages on his phone and handed them over?
Questions persist. Did Incognito decide to send them to Martin on his own? Did his coaches nudge him to do it? The NFL investigators will share what they find on that. But someone within the Dolphins, either owner Stephen Ross or Coach Joe Philbin, needs to acknowledge the complete lack of common decency.
So far, the silence is deafening, and Philbin and Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland are cast in a most unflattering light. It’s increasingly clear why Peyton Manning declined to stop by for a visit when he was a team-shopping free agent, even though he owns a condominium in Miami.
The NFL, which generates $9 billion annually, has a real problem here. This inadvertent peek behind the curtain not only has turned stomachs but also has turned some fans off the game. There are people who think the league is nothing but thugs and criminals. Although that’s obviously not the case, this situation has done little to dispel that notion.
There’s too much at stake for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell not to act. And, if history is a guide, Goodell will act, and probably in a decisive way that won’t hinge on how the NFL Players Assn. reacts. If Incognito indeed sent those messages, it will be a surprise if he’s allowed to stay in the league. If Dolphins coaches or front-office people directed it, or knew what was going on and looked the other way, they will be in deep trouble too.
Yes, football is a tough and violent game. Yes, there are things said and done within the confines of a locker room that would be considered bullying in the real world. But when there’s a total abandonment of common decency — and the people in positions of authority simply look the other way — that damages the product in unimaginable ways.
Changing the culture won’t be easy. People are going to hold fast to their philosophies. It’s not like in 2001, after Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer died of heat illness, and the league suddenly became far more proactive about hydration.
In this case, the league can’t legislate compassion, or insist that players be kinder to each other. This is football. But a possible outcome will be the elimination of anything that resembles hazing, even though the brutal physical hazing is largely a thing of the past. The tradition of rookies catering to veterans and spending thousands of dollars on team dinners is probably finished. There might be some type of sensitivity training, and some people would benefit from it.
Watch for Goodell to send a clear message in the coming weeks that the league is not going to tolerate the type of behavior we’re learning about in Miami. The commissioner often talks about defending the NFL shield. Of course, with some words and actions, there’s simply no defense.
On the defensive
The Baltimore Ravens gave up seven touchdown passes to Peyton Manning in the Kickoff Opener at Denver, a miserable outing for the defending Super Bowl champions.
However, the Ravens allowed only seven more touchdown passes in Weeks 2 to 9, and have yet to surrender one on the road since that Week 1 defeat.
Talk about churn at the top. At the midway point of the season, seven of the eight divisions have at least one team in first place (or tied for first) that did not win the division last season.
New England is the only 2012 division winner that’s alone in first place. Green Bay won the NFC North last season and is tied for first with Chicago and Detroit.
It’s well documented that San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh can give some bizarre answers at news conferences every so often. Here’s what he said this week when asked to explain why he refers to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as “plutonium-grade raw material”?
“It’s just, uniquely talented,” the coach said. “My son, Jack Harbaugh, who’s now a little over 14 months old, I mean, on the curve he’s outside of the 100 percentile now. Above, he’s above the 100 percentile. He’s big, he’s big, growing very well. Yeah, Cam Newton would be further outside the graph. He’s in a world by himself. He’s tremendously talented.”