The NFL dominated headlines this week after reports surfaced that the Miami Dolphins had suspended veteran guard Richie Incognito for “conduct detrimental to the team.” According to reports, Incognito allegedly bullied his teammate, second-year left tackle, Jonathan Martin, by verbally abusing him through the form of hazing throughout Martin’s two seasons with the Dolphins. Reports included a transcribed voicemail from Incognito to Martin that contained vulgar language, including an instance where Incognito, a Caucasian male, referred to Martin, an African American, as a “half N-word.” The report of Incognito’s actions surfaced following Martin’s decision to leave the team 10 days ago. Since then, Martin has yet to return to the team and Incognito has been suspended by the team indefinitely.

More details of Martin and Incognito’s relationship continue to unravel each day, including a claim from Incognito during a recent interview that he received a text from Martin just days ago that read, “I will murder your whole F’ing family.” Incognito said the text was a joke from Martin and that he knew Martin wasn’t serious because he “knew it was coming from a brother.” Incognito’s teammates also support him, calling the eight-year veteran a great teammate and friend.

But while his teammates consider him a “brother,” many others consider Incognito a hostile racist and bigot. Which prompts the question – was Incognito wrong for how he treated Martin? The AFRO Sports Desk debates the question:

Green: This is a tough subject to debate because there is so much information that needs to be considered to making a rationale judgment, yet most of the information is based on hearsay. Some say Incognito has a checkered past with violent, inappropriate behavior, while others that have known him personally for years claim he is a “good guy” with a great heart. I could easily take a stance that all forms of hazing are wrong, yet it’s such a normal occurrence among the NFL that it has become widely accepted among the NFL culture. Every NFL rookie player has been hazed in one way or another, whether they were tied to the goal post in their underwear after practice or forced to pick up a $10,000 tab at a team dinner meeting. Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake called it “the rites of passage” from outsider to a lifetime member of the NFL’s brotherhood and fraternity. And honestly, I respect that. The question is, did Incognito go too far with his hazing of Martin?

Riley: The answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, because Incognito called Martin a “half-ni___.” No White person should ever call a Black person “ni__” and not expect backlash from it. The history of that term is so ugly; it’s probably the ugliest word in U.S. history. But at the same time, there are Black Dolphin players who told reporters that they didn’t mind Incognito using the “n-word,” citing that they considered him an “honorary brother” and have embraced him as one of their own among the African-American community. Some reports even say a few Black Dolphin players had embraced Incognito into their culture more than Martin, who was always so “standoffish” from the rest of the players on the team. Now I think that’s just plain silly to say a White man acts “more Black” than a man of African-American descent, but I get the point that was trying to be made. The Black players on the team are sticking up for a player they respected and enjoyed playing with so they’re coming to his support. They probably think Incognito went too far saying the n-word but it may not have been with the malicious intent that everyone initially thought.

Green: I agree, I think Incognito shouldn’t be using the term “ni___,” whether he is joking or not. Now, I am taking into consideration the ni___r/n___a complex, which is an entirely separate debate in its self. Many younger generation African Americans have voiced their belief in using the term “ni__a” as a term of endearment, which they consider a separate term in reverse of the derogatory term “ni___r.” It’s the equivalent of the African-American race taking slave food like chitterlings and turning it into a traditional dish of delicacy.

But it doesn’t appear Incognito was using that reversed term. The way I see it, he was saying anything he could to get under the skin of Martin, perhaps to get a fired reaction from his teammate. For example, in the movie Men of Honor the first Black Navy diver was called “cookie” by his training instructor with purpose of motivating the diver to use his anger to perform at a higher level. Incognito may have taken the same approach and just went too far.

However, Incognito’s interview with Fox Sport’s Jay Glazier leads me to think that Incognito wasn’t the only one going a little too far. Incognito showed Glazier a text of Martin threatening to kill Incognito’s family. The text was sent a week before Martin left the team. Incognito said he didn’t take Martin seriously because that’s just how they “talked to each other as brothers.”

This adds value to a point that former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams made when he stated days ago that Martin may have been using Incognito as a scapegoat to get out of a league that he really didn’t want to play in anymore. Williams was famous for leaving the NFL seven years ago because he wanted to smoke weed and kept failing drug tests. Williams said the only difference between him and Martin is he kept it real with why he wasn’t in the right state of mind to play pro football at the time, while Martin is using Incognito and bullying as a way out.

Riley: I hate to say it, but Williams may be right. After all, Incognito shared a text with Glazier showing Martin telling him that he wasn’t at fault for him leaving. The text read:

“Wassup man the world’s gone crazy. . I’m good . Congrats on the win. I’m good man. It’s insane bro but just know I don’t blame u guys at all. It’s just the culture around football and the lockerroom got to me a little.”

Now when I read that text, I didn’t sense a man afraid of being bullied or emotionally abused by Incognito. It reads more like a young man who was having a hard time adjusting to the pressure of performing for a professional football team and simply broke down. Reports say Martin didn’t leave the team until he went to sit-down for lunch with his fellow offensive linemen and they all got up from the table and left him sitting alone. “O-line made fun of him and he snapped,” according to ESPN. Not everyone is mentally made up to make it in the NFL, and maybe Martin isn’t either. It’s clear that he was emotionally unstable and perhaps let all of his emotions pile up before eventually breaking down. I hope both he and Incognito are able to eventually move forward with their careers. It’ll be interesting to see how this story develops.

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk