What we know for certain after reading 1,000 texts between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito: Incognito is not an exemplary human being. I'm not even sure he is a human being.
At the very least, there seems to be a seven-year-old boy deep inside of a man who never truly reached adulthood. Incognito traffics in vulgarities and serial bigotry with the same ease as when blocking on the football field.
What we also know, what is inescapable now, is that Incognito may have been unfairly portrayed as a bully. Yes, he's a bad dude. But it's also unfair to call him Martin's bully. It's impossible, actually.
The texts, obtained by The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre, change everything. It would be foolish and arrogant and, yes, unfair to say they don't. Incognito has been portrayed nationally somewhere between a member of Al-Qaeda and an X-Men villain. What the texts do is possibly exonerate him as the face of bullying.
The texts are clearly meant to help Incognito and possibly influence public opinion before the release of investigator Ted Wells' special report. The NFL hired Wells to investigate the Dolphins' locker room culture. Incognito was suspended by the team after media reports surfaced that Incognito used racial slurs in voicemails and text messages to Martin. Wells' report could be released in a matter of days.
The new evidence—and it is evidence—shows that maybe many of us were in a rush to judgment because Incognito's poor character was like a trampoline or a propellant. Incognito was such a bad guy that it made it easier to portray him as a bully when, in fact, things were much more complicated.
In fact, Martin sometimes resembles as much the beer-soaked pubescent as the texts reveal Incognito to be. The homophobia, the bigotry, the misogyny—in the texts, Martin chuckles right along with Incognito.
In fact, Incognito knows he's a foul-mouthed jackass. There's no attempt to hide that fact. In that way, he's actually better than Martin, who has portrayed himself as the Rosa Parks of NFL anti-bullying. As bad a dude as Incognito is, the impression the texts deliver is that if Martin truly felt Incognito had gone too far in his actions, all Martin had to say was, "Dude, I don't like that language. Please stop." And I actually think Incognito might have stopped.
What the texts also do is provide the best reason yet why Dolphins teammates backed Incognito. Incognito isn't a nice man. He won't be attending any cotillions. But it's becoming increasingly clear he wasn't a bully.
When I asked a veteran NFL player to read the texts and give me his thoughts, his first words after reading them were, "They make me rethink everything." Me as well.
A second player said the texts show the daily back-and-forth in some locker rooms. In most successful locker rooms, the player said the banter doesn't get this raunchy. "But I think every player will read these texts," the player explained," and won't see Incognito as a bully. They'll see it as two dudes giving each other s---."
It's time to be careful here. One thousand texts could just be a snippet of their texting lives. We're lacking some context here. How many total texts are there? What are the key omitted ones, if any? Did the leaker of the texts use snippets that purposefully make Incognito look better?
We don't know the answers, and it's also possible Martin's texting with Incognito is an attempt for a shy, intellectual man to fit into a raw locker room culture.
Martin comes from a family of high intelligence and distinction—his mother is a corporate lawyer, his father is a college professor; both graduated from Harvard—the opposite of Incognito's upbringing. My guess is the Stanford locker room where Martin played college ball didn't routinely have these kinds of chats.
Then again, the texts show Martin using just as much vulgar language and displaying just as much immaturity as Incognito.
They have conversations about women and drugs and booze and women and booze and women and strippers and women, and there isn't one indication of bullying. Not one.
Some of the more interesting texts include:
- About the infamous trip to Las Vegas that Martin declined to pay for and was portrayed in the media as a major point of contention between the two men, Incognito texts, "It’s all good. Let me know if u need anything."
- A text exchange on Nov. 18 from Incognito to Martin read, "U pull any ass last night?" Martin responded, "Nah I was too wasted bro lol." Typical juvenile banter.
- In another exchange, the two men talk about two different bars.
Incognito: "How was bamboo?"
Martin: "Really fun. Lots of dudes came through."
Incognito: "HaHa. Lots of dudes? Ur into dudes…I knew it."
Martin: "Haha that sounded suspect…What I mean is there were a ton of guys from the team there. You went to T's right?"
Incognito: "Yea. It was dead. Hung for a bit and took off. Was it all black people at bamboo?"
Martin: "Yea…And Chandler. lol."
Incognito: "Hahaha! How were the chicks?"
Martin: "Some really hot ones, but tons of hood rats, too."
Far from being bullied, Martin joined with Incognito in their laughing over homophobia and mild bigotry. (Hood rats?)
Did Martin talk like this to fit in? Possibly, but these conversations—and there are so many more—sound more like texts between a wingman and his bro than between a bully and his target.
What we now know is there is more to this sad and sordid story. It has taken so many twists; why shouldn't there be one more? And that twist could be that Incognito, while a fantastic cad, isn't the bully many of us believed he was.
And Martin may not be such an innocent lamb.