McALESTER — Professional football is as its name implies: a profession. It’s a job.
We want football to be something more — a ritual (maybe), or a symbol of American values (not really) — for many players in the National Football League it’s just how they earn a living.
Because of this, NFL locker rooms must be subject to similar workplace standards as you would find anywhere in any industry. And while any collection of hyper-competitive young men will produce some level of aggressive interaction, a line still exists between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, between behavior that creates a productive work environment and a hostile one.
Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito didn’t just cross that line with teammate Jonathan Martin — he ignored it completely. Incognito broke one of his teammates — hence the term, “breakdown” — and for that he has to go.
As this saga stretches into its third week since Martin left the Dolphins on Oct. 28, the stories coming out of the Miami locker room are getting worse and worse. A voice mail rife with racial slurs left by Incognito threatened physical violence against Martin’s mother, and now new accusations include physical attacks and threats of sexual violence against Martin’s sister.
Incognito was accused of sexual harassment a year ago, according to a Florida police report made public Friday. And his history of antagonism, bullying and aggression dates back to his time at the University of Nebraska in 2002.
Incognito and several of his teammates have tried to argue that his actions have been misinterpreted. That the voicemail made public last week was meant to be funny, not hateful.
But using racial slurs isn’t funny. Threatening to hurt a person’s family isn’t funny.
Threatening to sexually violate someone’s sister isn’t funny. Ever.
Trash-talking is unavoidable in professional sports, and most players find a way to take it in stride. That Richard Seymour, at the time a defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, found something Incognito said so awful that he punched Incognito during a 2011 game is more evidence that Incognito’s style goes well beyond acceptable limits.