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The Buffalo Bills signed offensive lineman Richie Incognito this month, which is perfect symmetry since a year ago a damning report was released that showed what a homophobic and racist bully he was with the Miami Dolphins. Incognito did not play in 2014 in the aftermath of the report, but he now says he's a changed man.
Incognito was at the center of a thorough investigation by lawyer Ted Wells into the bullying of Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin during the 2013 season. The Wells report highlighted these instances of homophobia among the Dolphins offensive linemen and their since-fired line coach Jim Turner.:
- Player A was a Dolphins offensive lineman. Like Martin, he is quiet and unassuming. During his time with the team, Incognito, [John] Jerry and [Mike] Pouncey frequently taunted Player A with homophobic insults. He often was called a "fag" or a "faggot" in a demeaning tone. Incognito reportedly accused him of "sucking dick" and "pissing while sitting down" and asked him "where’s your boyfriend?" Incognito acknowledged that Player A, although not actually believed to be gay, was spoken to in this manner repeatedly and persistently — he got it "every day from everybody, high frequency."
- In addition, Incognito and others acknowledged that Player A was routinely touched by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey in a mockingly suggestive manner, including on his rear end, while being taunted about his supposed homosexuality. Incognito specifically admitted that he would grab Player A and ask for a hug as part of this "joke."
- Martin said that on one particularly disturbing occasion, Pouncey physically restrained Player A, and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to "come get some pussy," and that Jerry responded by touching Player A’s buttocks in a way that simulated anal penetration. Jerry and Pouncey both denied this allegation.
- Dolphins’ Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner was aware of the running "joke" that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting. Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male "blow-up" doll. Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, "I can’t remember." We do not believe that Turner forgot this incident, which many others recalled.
- Incognito’s view of Player A’s treatment echoed what he said about Martin’s treatment—that it was all part of the rough and tumble but ultimately good-natured environment of the Dolphins’ offensive line. According to Incognito, Player A was a "good kid" who "took it well" and never told his teammates to stop. In Incognito’s eyes, jokes about Player A’s sexuality were all harmless fun.
- The evidence further shows that Player A regarded the persistent insults and mocking physical contact as unwelcome. In our view, these incidents cannot be viewed in isolation. They are part of a pattern of abusive, unprofessional behavior that ultimately undermined the offensive line and hurt the entire team.
- Just as the racial taunting of Martin is inexcusable, so, too, is the taunting of Player A on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of whether or not he is, in fact, gay. Several NFL players have been vocal in promoting acceptance and integration of gay players into the league, and we believe that the NFL as an organization is committed to creating a safe environment in which a player can feel comfortable being open about his sexual orientation. With the recent announcement by Michael Sam, a defensive lineman from the University of Missouri who is expected to be selected in the 2014 NFL draft, that he is gay, it is even more urgent that a tolerant atmosphere exist throughout the league. The frequent use of homophobic insults undermines this goal.
Ironically, at the same time the Wells report was made public last February, Michael Sam came out as gay, and Incognito tweeted this: "@MikeSamFootball #respect bro. It takes guts to do what you did. I wish u nothing but the best."
Those are nice sentiments but it's unclear if this support for Sam was simply a form of damage control with Incognito knowing the Wells report would be released. Fast forward to this month and Incognito has gotten what he knows is his final chance at NFL redemption after being signed by the Bills. On Wednesday, he said he told the Bills he is a changed person:
"I told them what I had learned from the whole situation," Incognito wrote in a text. "That I needed to respect those around me more and that I needed to realize I may find things funny that other find offensive. This whole learning process was about becoming self-aware. About becoming a better person/teammate/leader.
"We mutually expressed that this would be my last chance and we should look at it as a positive," he said. "Take the opportunity to bring attention to a sensitive subject while proving to people that I'm not a racist jerk. We talked about possible ways to turn this situation around and ways we can impact the community. We had a good talk for about an hour. They met separately. They then came back and said they would like me to be part of the organization."
In addition to not being "racist jerk," he also needs to prove he's not a homophobic jerk. It is interesting that Incognito is being given another chance after burning his bridges at various NFL stops but that Michael Sam can't as of yet get an invited to a training camp to prove he can play.