Controversy at Every Turn: The Career of Richie Incognito

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2013

Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito is no stranger to the spotlight. At times that spotlight has brought with it glowing praise for his fine on-field performances, but all too often, as is the case currently, he has found himself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The nine-year NFL veteran out of Nebraska is an imposing force on the field at 6'3" and 319 pounds. He even earned the first Pro Bowl nod of his career last season.

Incognito had seemingly rehabilitated his once-tarnished image since joining the Dolphins in 2010, but a troubling situation featuring teammate Jonathan Martin has changed public perception once again.

The Accusations

Sep 22, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA;  Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin (71), guard Richie Incognito (68), and center Mike Pouncey (51) prepare to block for quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17)  as Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (95)
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dolphins have suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team in relation to an incident or string of incidents that recently led to Martin's departure from the squad.

A pattern of bullying directed toward Martin had reportedly developed in the time since the Dolphins selected the Stanford offensive lineman in the second round of the 2012 draft, per Alex Marvez of Fox Sports.

Martin did not play for the Dolphins in their 22-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9, and he has yet to return to the team.

While the initial incident in question involved multiple players reportedly giving him a hard time in the lunch room, Incognito has become the main target of the investigation. That is primarily due to the fact that alleged voicemails and text messages sent from Incognito to Martin have been recovered, and they include racially charged and threatening overtones, according to ESPN.com.

One voicemail, which Incognito allegedly left for Martin in April 2013, reveals abusive behavior on Incognito's part:

Hey, wassup, you half n----- piece of s---. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] s--- in your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your f---ing mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. F--- you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you.

Not only is Incognito suspended, but according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Incognito's time as a Dolphin may have reached a sudden conclusion:

"He's done," a ranking club source said Monday. "There are procedures in place and everyone wants to be fair. The NFL is involved. But from a club perspective he'll never play another game here."

This would undoubtedly be a huge deal even if it was an isolated incident, but Incognito has a long history of inappropriate behavior dating back to his time in college as a Nebraska Cornhusker.

The Huskers

LINCOLN, NE - AUGUST 24:  Tackle Richie Incognito #51 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers gets up after a play over defensive end Brian Montesanto #97 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the NCAA football game on August 24, 2002, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

It didn't take long for Incognito to establish himself as a problem child at Nebraska. He entered the program as a highly touted offensive-line prospect in 2002, and he almost immediately made an enemy out of fellow offensive lineman Jack Limbaugh, according to Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today.

David Kolowski, who was a long snapper and center for the Huskers from 1998 through 2002, wrote an expose entitled Diary of a Husker following his time with the team. In the book, Kolowski talks about an incident early in the 2002 season when Incognito targeted Limbaugh on the practice field for no apparent reason.

Kolowski told Schrotenboer that this led to Limbaugh leaving the practice field in anger:

Richie was a guy who came in with all the talent in the world, and Jack was an easy mark for a guy like Richie, who came across as a bully. Jack was a walk-on just trying to make the team. There was a bit of that kind of bullying with Jack. He didn't appreciate it, but in that culture you don't run and cry to the coaches.

Looking back, it's certainly possible that this particular incident was the genesis of Incognito's inability to get along with teammates.

Even so, Incognito went on to have a sparkling 2002 season as he garnered First Team All-Freshman honors from a number of publications. But he also offered a glimpse into his troubled future that season when he was ejected from Nebraska's game against Penn State for fighting with Nittany Lion Jeremiah Davis, according to David Jones of PennLive.com.

Incognito was later suspended by then-Nebraska head coach Frank Solich during the spring of 2003, according to the Associated Press via SI.com, although the reasoning behind that suspension was never explained.

Despite the suspension, Incognito was reinstated in time to start every game for the Cornhuskers during the 2003 season. He once again found himself in trouble following the 2003 campaign, however, as he was found guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident that occurred at a party in February 2004, per the Associated Press.

This was presumably a huge factor in Bill Callahan's decision to suspend Incognito indefinitely when he took over as Nebraska's head coach prior to the 2004 season, per Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star.

"We have team rules," Callahan said. "They're very simple to follow. If they're not followed, and they're not complied too, then (you) suffer the consequences, unfortunately."

The Ducks

Incognito's second suspension while at Nebraska ultimately led to him leaving the school and enrolling at Oregon. Incognito joined the Ducks under conditions set forth by then-Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti, according to the Associated Press:

My point is, he will not represent the University of Oregon on the football field until next year -- if he makes it through everything we do. He is committed to it, his parents are committed to it. He will be going through certain things that will help if he has anger-management issues.

Despite the new lease on life, Incognito's time with Oregon didn't last long, as John Canzano of The Oregonian reported. Bellotti was willing to give Incognito a chance, but he didn't make the commitment to bettering himself that the Oregon coaching staff wanted to see.

"He was talented, but came with issues. He claimed they were in the past," Bellotti said. "We set a code of conduct he had to meet. He failed that before fall camp."

The Rams

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24:  Guard Richie Incognito #68 of the St. Louis Rams waves goodbye to the home Arizona Cardinals crowd on September 24, 2006 at Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 16-14.  (Photo by Lisa Blumen
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

That could have easily been the end of the line for Incognito's football career, but the St. Louis Rams gave him a new lease on life when they selected him in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.

Incognito appeared to prove the Rams right through the first few seasons of his career, as he started primarily at guard from 2006 to 2009. Incognito didn't make headlines off the field during that time, but his hot-headed behavior on the field cost his team dearly. He committed 38 penalties while with the Rams, including a league-high seven personal fouls, according to Jeff Darlington of NFL.com.

Things came to a head quite literally late in the 2009 season during a 47-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Incognito was twice flagged for head-butting Titans players, and he also got into a verbal spat with then-Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that Incognito was subsequently released.

Incognito caught on with the Buffalo Bills for the remainder of the season, but Buffalo decided against re-signing him even though he played well in three games with the team. It was unclear if Incognito would get another chance after the Bills let him walk, but he was lucky enough to be offered a contract by the Dolphins.

The Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 23: Richie Incognito #68 of the Miami Dolphins defends against the Buffalo Bills on December 23, 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Bills 24-10. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

By the time Incognito signed with the Dolphins, his options were running thin. According to Darlington, he had previously resisted medication to aid his mental state. Although he was never diagnosed with a mental disorder, he began taking Paxil when he came to Miami, and he believed that it helped him make a 180-degree turn:

Throughout my career, people had mentioned, "Maybe you need to start some medication, just to kind of get things balanced out, because you're so far out of whack." I kept saying, "I don't want to live like that. I don't want to have to depend on medicine to balance me out." I just wouldn't give up the power.

And at that point, when I got down here to Miami and I realized it was my last opportunity, that's when I was like, "You know what? I'm going to do whatever it takes to make me right." I put my trust in the doctors and I put the trust in people around me.

Incognito admitted that he had previously abused marijuana but told Darlington that he had been clean for four years:

That whole time, I realized I was self-medicating. I had so much going on in my head-- emotional stress and physical stress. I had so much going on that I was using marijuana to just put it all away. You know, I'd get high and I'd forget about everything. You know what I mean? I lost total control of the situation. I let the substances take over my life.

The medication and lack of reliance on drugs seemed to be working. Incognito was staying out of trouble off the field and excelling on it, but cracks in the dam became evident as recently as this past offseason.

The Relapse

According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Incognito was allegedly involved in an altercation at Club Liv in Miami back in June. He wasn't arrested or booked, and he claimed that he was simply trying to break up a fight between his friends and security guard Carlos Joseph. Perhaps that incident was a sign of things to come, though.

During a preseason game against the Houston Texans earlier this year, Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith ripped off Incognito's helmet and swung it in his direction. Incognito didn't retaliate and came away looking like the bigger man, as Smith was subsequently suspended for two games, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.

It is unclear what caused Smith to react so violently, but it's certainly possible that Incognito played the role of agitator.

Those incidents were brushed off by many, as most of the talk heading into the season focused on the character transformation that Incognito had seemingly undergone. He took on a leadership role with the Dolphins, and he was even the recipient of the 2012 Good Guy Award along with former Dolphins running back Reggie Bush for his cooperation with the media, according to Alain Poupart of Scout.com.

Incognito was also featured in a public service announcement directed toward Dolphins fans. The PSA called for Dolphins fans to act in a civilized manner on game day, and it humorously played off Incognito's troubled past.

Since being accused of bullying Martin, however, more evidence has come to light regarding inappropriate behavior in recent months. TMZ released a NSFW video from earlier in the year featuring a seemingly intoxicated Incognito using a racial slur to address teammate Mike Pouncey at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pool hall.

Also, Artrell Hawkins Jr. of Fox Sports Radio tweeted a disturbing piece of evidence from the Dolphins' program for their game against the Bengals in Week 9. Dolphins players were asked several lighthearted Halloween questions, including which of their teammates was easiest to scare.

Incognito's response? Jonathan Martin.

Even if the accusations against Incognito don't turn out to be 100 percent true, he is already guilty in the court of public opinion. Many NFL analysts, including ESPN's Tom Jackson, haven't pulled any punches, according to NFL on ESPN.

The Teammates

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 06: Richie Incognito #68 (L) of the St. Louis Rams congratulates kicker Josh Brown #3 after Brown hit a 50 yard field goal against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 6, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Rams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While the claims levied against Incognito are extreme, some of those who have played alongside him aren't particularly shocked. New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was Incognito's teammate at Nebraska as well as with the Rams, and he told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News that it was par for the course:

None of it shocks me. I don't know any details obviously. The league hasn't released anything. But Richie seems to be a person with a tortured soul. He's had these issues for quite awhile and it's sad.

Brown still considers Incognito a friend, but he believes that his former teammate is still dealing with "demons" despite the prevailing thought that he had turned a corner:

It's sad to see, because he was a friend of mine and still is. I played with him in college and he had a lot of problems in college. I played with him in the Rams, and not severe issues there ... but it seems like this seems to be something that has been haunting him for more than decade. This seems to be somebody who's really got some demons that are out of the building.

Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood briefly shared a locker room with Incognito in 2009, and while he didn't personally have a problem with the way Incognito acted while with the Bills, he is fully aware that Incognito has a penchant for crossing the line, according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News:

He gets on everybody. Not everybody likes Richie Incognito. That’s a fact. I can take his jabs and give it right back to him and we have fun with it. But if you don’t have the right personality and he takes it a little too far, I could definitely see where something has come up out of it.

There are likely myriad reasons behind why Incognito has made so many poor choices since his start at Nebraska in 2002, but there may be reason to believe that empowerment is coming from his own family member.

The Father

In Darlington's NFL.com profile of Incognito prior to the season, his father, Richie Sr., discussed Incognito dealing with bullying as a child due to his weight.

"I'd always tell Richie, 'You don't take no s--- from anyone,'" his father said. "'If you let anyone give you s--- now, you're going to take s--- your entire life.'"

Those words may seem like nothing more than a father trying to help his son through a difficult time, but some of his advice proved all too prophetic.

"I'd try to cheer him up," said Richie Sr., who is now a custom pool builder in Arizona. "I'd tell him, 'Payback is going to come, Richie. When it's time for you to have your payback, you open up the gates of hell and make them stare at the devil.' And when that day came, man, he made them stare at the devil."

Although it has yet to be proved, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin.com wrote extensively about a user named "idrd1994" on Dolphins message board FinHeaven potentially being Richie Sr.

According to Petchesky, all of that particular user's posts were dedicated to the offensive line and Incognito. He also made derogatory comments toward Martin and Pouncey.

In addition to that, there are plenty of consistencies between the poster and Richie Sr., per Petchesky:

Then, more sleuthwork. (FinHeaven user) TheWalrus found another post of idrd1994's where he talks about growing up in New Jersey and watching the Jets play at Shea Stadium. Richie Incognito was born in New Jersey, but after the Jets had already moved. Not too young to have seen the Jets play in Queens? Richie Incognito Sr., an active poster (under a different name) on Nebraska message boards when Richie Jr. played for the Huskers.

A Google search for "idrd1994" turns up a number of posts on RC car message boards, from a user claiming to live in Arizona—where the Incognitos moved when Richie Jr. was 11. "idrd1994" is also a profile on MyLife.com, registered under one Richie Incognito, age 63, from Glendale, Ariz.

If "idrd1994" is Richie Sr., it says a lot about Incognito's line of thinking. That isn't to say that Incognito would deserve a free pass if his father planted these types of thoughts in his head, but it could be a much deeper problem than Incognito being a "jerk" or "bad person."

The Accountability

There are plenty of troubling aspects to this situation, but the most troubling of all may be Incognito's reluctance to take responsibility. Although it hasn't yet been proven that Incognito bullied Martin, evidence is mounting. Even so, Incognito seemed to suggest on Twitter that the reports regarding his misconduct are false.

When discussing his past demons, Incognito told Darlington that one of his biggest issues was a refusal to accept blame:

Pretty much every facet of my life was in turmoil, and I was basically waging war against myself at that time. I didn't realize that the battle was within me. It was a lot easier to blame everybody else. And it was a lot easier to be mad at everybody else and not be mad at myself. I placed blame anywhere blame could be placed. It was a coward's way out.

Unfortunately, Incognito's past has seemingly reared its ugly head. If he continues to make the same mistakes that got him into trouble to begin with, his NFL career may be over. Even if Incognito experiences yet another character renaissance, however, it may be too late, especially since his last one may have been little more than a facade.

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