Before the Ray Rice video, the Greg Hardy conviction, the Jonathan Dwyer assault charges and Adrian Peterson's child abuse case—before everything that made this the NFL's year from hell—there was Richie Incognito, a woman and a golf club.
That's the guy the Buffalo Bills just signed. A proven, historic bully and an alleged sexual assaulter, at a time when the NFL is trying to change its image from a league full of people like that.
Go back to 2012, and Incognito was allegedly drunk at a golf tournament. According to numerous published reports, Incognito used a golf club to assault a woman volunteer by rubbing the club against her private parts. Then he rubbed his private parts against her buttocks. He next dumped water in her face. The woman described the incident to law enforcement this way, telling police:
[Incognito] used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. He then used the club to knock a pair of sunglasses off the top of her head.
After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying "Let it rain! Let it rain!"
He finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face.
And what did the Dolphins do? They ran interference for him. Why? The same reason people had throughout his sordid life: His perceived talent. His ability to convince the next team that he's a changed man. And the next. And the next.
That was at play in Miami, and always has been, despite the fact that those abilities were no longer truly present. This is the greatest con Incognito has perpetrated: that he is worth the trouble everyone knows is coming when he hasn't been good for years. This is the con he just pulled on the next batch of suckers: the Bills and their fans.
The woman reached a financial settlement with Incognito and the Dolphins. It also seems she signed a confidentiality agreement. Incognito's ability to play football, even at a marginal level, had once again saved him. In this instance, it might have saved him from going to jail.
What I've gotten on Twitter is that Incognito deserves a second chance. And Bills fans who once mocked and scorned him now defend him. This is humorous, almost farcical. The Bills signing isn't Incognito's second chance. He is on three, four, five and counting. He hasn't made one mistake, like we all do. He has screwed up, in one way or another, since 2001. Incognito should put that on a T-shirt.
Few people in the history of football have gotten more chances than Incognito, and he has obliterated those chances each time. He was kicked out of Nebraska and Oregon. There was the $50,000 fine for two personal fouls when he was with the Rams. They booted his ass off the team, too. That was, I believe, his fourth chance.
Then came the infamous bullying scandal in Miami. Not only did the Dolphins boot his ass, too, but the NFL had seen enough as well. He was the catalyst for one of the uglier moments in league history.
That was chance five? Six? Now comes another in Buffalo. Seven? Eight?
As Joe Banner, the former Eagles president and Browns CEO, tweeted:
That was referring to new Bills head coach Rex Ryan, formerly of the Jets.
This is why the signing of Incognito is problematic. The NFL has been trying to clean up its act and image. The cleanup, after The Year of Rice, will require the same people who contained Chernobyl.
The NFL is trying and making sincere attempts to do so. It's hired key women to handle the issues of domestic violence. It's changed the rules where a player accused of domestic violence is removed from the field while charges are pending.
But however much effort is made to rehabilitate the league, it cannot overcome the selfishness and stupidity of its own teams.
Some franchises seem to forget that not everyone deserves to play in the NFL. It's OK to let the turds stay in the toilet. Let them try to find another job that accepts felons and thugs.
Well, what about Mike Vick? He tortured dogs. He got a second chance. What about the other punks who got another attempt to play after a screw-up? A) What Vick did was horrible. B) It could be argued he didn't deserve entrance back into football. C) Vick got a real second chance, not a 10th. D) Most importantly, now is a different time, one of the most crucial in league history.
Roger Goodell and the league office are telling fans (and sponsors) that the NFL will no longer tolerate woman beaters and criminals, yet here is just that. The NFL tells its female fans: We will be different now. Then a team goes and signs a man who allegedly assaulted a woman with a golf club. A 300-pound man throwing water in the face of said woman. A real American hero.
You can tell this signing makes the Bills nervous as well. They did it in February, after the Super Bowl, when the NFL is temporarily quiet. There's no media access for a bit, so there are no pesky news conferences with reporters demanding to know why the team signed him. It was a purposeful, tactical move, the NFL equivalent of the cover of darkness.
At his introductory press conference, Ryan may have forecast the Incognito signing.
"We are going to build a bully and we're going to see if you want to play us for 60 minutes," Ryan said. "We're not going to get pushed around. I can promise you that. We will not be pushed around. In fact, we're going to be the bullies. That's who we are. We absolutely are not going to be pushed around. Now, we're going to do a lot of pushing ourselves. I'll promise you that. But we will build a bully. That's what we can't wait to get started doing."
There was a line used on Twitter that was the best about the Incognito signing, and it revolved around those Ryan words. The tweet read:
The NFL wants to change its image. The league office is trying.
And now here come the Bills and Incognito, unashamedly a bully in the worst way.
Good luck, Bills. You're gonna need it.
And congratulations on your 50th chance, Richie.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.