Richie Incognito is a bully there is no denying that. His behavior as a member of the Miami Dolphins was uncalled for. In every environment there is a line that everyone knows cannot be crossed and according to the Wells Report, Incognito disregarded that line and crossed it several times. He took goodhearted fun, ribbing and hazing in the locker room too far. It can be debated if Jonathan Martin handed the situation appropriately, but regardless he shouldn’t have had to put up with the treatment he received if he was not comfortable with it.
Many have called for Incognito to be suspended for the 2014 season, if not for life from the NFL. Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins for the final eight games of 2013 and lost two game checks (about $441,000 total) during that time. Further suspension would be a mistake. That isn’t to say what Incognito did is acceptable or that he shouldn’t face consequences. The problem is that the NFL has already set a precedent for punishing players who have gotten roughly the same punishment as Incognito for greater offenses. How can Incognito get the same punishment for bullying a teammate that other players have gotten for taking another life due to their own irresponsibility?
St. Louis Rams Defensive End Leonard Little was convicted on vehicle manslaughter in 1998 after striking a woman with his car with a blood alcohol level of .19 which is over double the legal limit in the state of Missouri. Little was punished by the courts getting 90 days in jail, four years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. The NFL also punished Little with an eight game suspension in the 1999 season which equaled to $125,000 in lost wages.
In 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found himself in hot water after being accused of sexual assault in a Georgia bar. The evidence against Roethlisberger seemed very damning but charges were not pressed because the alleged victim decided not to peruse charges due to the media attention that would violate her privacy. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime but his behavior in this incident was disturbing enough to have the NFL suspend the Steelers QB for the first six games of the 2010 season without pay and undergo a league-mandated professional behavior evaluation. Roethlisberger met the conditions of his suspension and it was later reduced to four games costing him nearly $1.9 million in wages. Roethlisberger also financially settled on a 2009 rape allegation in a Lake Tahoe hotel room.
In March of 2009, then Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Donte Stallworth struck a man with his car while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. Stallworth served 24 days in jail, was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service, two years of community control and eight years probation. He also came to a financial settlement with the victim’s family. The NFL suspended Stallworth without pay for the 2009 season which cost him $745,000 in salary.
All four of the highlighted players committed acts that are inexcusable and should never be tolerated. But to call for more punishment on Incognito that is already on par to the punishments for manslaughter and alleged sexual assault is wrong. The punishment needs to be weighed with the offense. While bulling is a problem that doesn’t get enough attention and needs to be taken more seriously for both children and adults; Incognito has already served his fair amount punishment and it is now up to the market to determine if he has a future in football. If all 32 teams decide that Incognito is too toxic to be in their locker rooms then he won’t be playing football again anyway. If a team decides to give him a second chance then he should be allowed to play again. Little, Roethlisberger and Stallworth all played in the NFL again after their offenses and if a team welcomes Incognito then he should get the same chance. In no way is this condoning Incognito’s actions but to scale, he has already paid his dues.
Player Offense Suspension Lost Wages
Leonard Little DUI/Manslaughter 8 games $125,000
Ben Roethlisberger Alleged Sexual Assault 4 games $1.9 million
Donte Stallworth DUI/Manslaughter 16 games $745,000
Richie Incognito Bullying Teammate 8 games $441,000