First it was Ray Rice. Adrian Peterson soon followed. My 4:00 drive home listening to ESPN Radio the last month has consisted of these two topics, with a slight dash of actual sports. From the outside looking in, it seems like a simple equation. Take the unwavering passion of football fans, dig as deep as you can into the latest firestorm, and blast it all over the media attacking it from every angle possible and what do you get? RATINGS!!! I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be covering these stories and bringing them to light. What I am saying is that as passionate as football fans are, whatever the current top story in football is at the moment always seems to be “the worst thing that has ever happened to the sport.”
But is it really? Tell me, what do Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Riley Cooper have in common? Looking back on each one of their incidents, they were, individually, the worst thing that happened to the sport EVER. Then as time went by, the fire died down and life moved on. They learned from their mistakes, and in some cases, even became leaders of men that took the role of mentor to ensure the next generation didn’t have to learn by failing. It’s called redemption, and it’s a story that cannot be told until one is given a chance to redeem himself. With that being said, when will the time come for Richie Incognito to get his redemption attempt? If it does happen, I’ll gladly vouch for that place to be Buffalo.
Before the hate mail begins to fly, let it be known that I absolutely do not condone what Incognito did to Jonathan Martin. With all the negative media in the NFL these days, some would think adding him to your team would be putting fuel into the fire. The Bills have been one of the few bright spots for NFL media relations this year with Jim Kelly’s cancer free announcement and the Pegula’s bid acceptance by the Wilson trust. This move would potentially bring an end to our “media darling” status around the league. If that’s the ramification of us signing him, which team would even dare touch him with a 10 foot pole?
Looking beyond my personal opinion of Incognito bullying his teammates is a sense that he never knew he was actually doing it. It’s hard to rationalize he couldn’t have known he was beating down another’s emotions so badly that the player would have to seek professional help, but some of us can look back on our own lives and pick apart how this all could have went down.
Being on a football team and serving in the military bear a few similarities that can help shed light on how Incognito possibly couldn’t have known what he was doing. I’m not talking about the similarities of a football game and war (something nobody should ever analogize); it’s more akin to the living conditions and how close these guys are. The close quarters and social mingling of men in their 20’s with more than enough time on their hands to do and say pretty much anything they want when they’re outside of the “PC bubble” can lead to some pretty strange things, to say the least. Have a Marine or soldier share some stories from the early onset of their time in service and strange might be where the story starts.
Richie Incognito’s problem isn’t just that he participated in the hazing or even that he led it. His problem is that he was that one guy that had to “one up” everyone else. We all know the type. The guy that has to have the last laugh. The one that just can’t let something go and say “oh you got me.” The mindset that this year will have to be bigger and badder than the last year. Those “one upper” types are the ones that take something so far to the extreme that going back to the way it was when it started is even out of the question. Even so, I sincerely doubt he woke up every morning salivating at the chance to make another person’s life miserable. Frankly, I believe he thought of Jonathan Martin as a brother but couldn’t see the pain he was causing beyond all of the fun they were having whilst supposedly “bonding.”
The subject of bullying is sensitive and undeniably polarizing, but there’s no question as to if it actually happened in this case; it absolutely did. But let’s face the facts, Chris Williams is nowhere near the $13 million price we paid for him and it’s a stretch to think that he’s an upgrade over Doug Legursky. Our offensive line has depth it hasn’t had in years, yet the left guard position still seems to be the weak link. Richie Incognito is a Pro-Bowl caliber left guard, his suspension has ended, and I doubt his price tag would be even close to what we paid for Williams.
Upgrading a weak position on the roster does not, in itself, warrant the signing of Incognito. The prospect of him returning to Buffalo over any other team does make more sense when you look at what would be waiting for him here. Back in 2009 he played with Fred Jackson, albeit for three games. He came to fill in for an injured Eric Wood (who has the same agent as Incognito). These two men are the unquestioned leaders on offense and would not allow the same issues to go on in their locker room. Head Coach Doug Marrone works with the offensive line hands on more so than any other position; meaning Incognito would have even less of a chance to pull something off, even if he wanted to. He would also have to face even more stringent terms than Seantrel Henderson was given on his arrival, fully knowing that this would be his one and only chance to play in the NFL again.
The prospective of going along with this brings to mind when the Bills signed Terrell Owens. I distinctly remember the headline of that day: “Bills fans, get your popcorn ready!” He came to this team with all of the baggage in the world, and what happened? A faint news stream during the season, but nothing newsworthy on or off the field other than his actual game-play. Before we signed Incognito the first time, he was deemed “the dirtiest player in the game.” In Buffalo, he was just a starting lineman. Sometimes being in a small market can be a good thing.
Could Richie Incognito actually be the next great redemption story in the NFL? Nobody can answer that question right now. It is unequivocally up to him to ensure his career never ends up in jeopardy again. One thing I do know for a fact is that Richie Incognito will sign with an NFL team at some point. He needs a team that can foster his development and we need a left guard… Badly.