William Safire, one of my journalistic idols, said it took three examples to make a column, so I use his dictum to lead into what follows. To wit:
THE MIAMI DOLPHINS’ BROUHAHA-- The first thing that was surprising about Jonathan Martin’s flight from the National Football League team is that a 6-foot-5, 320-pound man could be bullied, harassed or otherwise intimidated by a colleague as Martin says he was, by fellow behemoth and offensive-line mate Richie (no longer) Incognito. Exhibit A in his departure was a threatening, profane, racist screed that Incognito chose to text-message to Martin. The second surprising thing was that, apparently, Incognito didn’t know that anything sent electronically these days can be shared with the world instantly.
The initial response of many, including the Dolphins’ GM to whom Martin complained about his treatment, was that Martin should have settled his dispute with Incognito by punching him in the mouth. Martin, however, is a well-brought-up young man— the son of two Harvard graduates—who doesn’t buy that approach to conflict resolution. That led some to put him down as a wuss, neglecting the facts that he was an All-American at Stanford U., a second-round draft choice by the Dolphins in 2012 and a starter at right or left tackle from his debut in the rock-‘em, sock -‘em pro game, things that should qualify him as manly on any scale.
What wasn’t surprising about the episode to even passing followers of football was the involvement of Incogito. He’s been such bad news since his college days that it’s a wonder any team would take him on.
Richie first matriculated at the U. of Nebraska football factory, and played well there, but was kicked off the school’s team after his junior year for “team-rules violations,” the label colleges use to cover up a wide variety of sins. While at Nebraska he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a fight at a party, a rap that was bargained down from three felony counts. He also wound up on the list of witnesses against a Lincoln, Nebraska, man charged in 2005 with selling steroids to Cornhusker gridders and others. He didn’t have to testify but the guy was convicted anyway.
Richie next turned up at the U. of Oregon to complete his college eligibility, but was bounced before he put on his pads, also for undisclosed rules violations. As a pro he’s changed uniforms three times and has stood out more for his late-hit penalties than for his Pro Bowl-level talents. In 2009, as a Buffalo Bill, he was named the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of his peers taken by The Sporting News, no small distinction in that well-stocked zoo.
It’s recently been revealed that police files in Aventura, Florida, showed that last year a woman complained that Incognito had groped her sexually and otherwise molested her while she was volunteering at a Dolphins’ golf outing. No charges were filed and the woman told reporters she couldn’t comment on the matter because of a confidentiality agreement she’d signed, indicating that she’d been bought off.
Plenty of sociologizing has been used to explain the Incognito-Martin episode, but the clear facts are that football requires of its players the kind of of aggression that’s unacceptable in society at large, and that for whatever reasons a few of them can’t turn it off when the whistle blows or the game ends. Teams hire these guys (and others cozy up to them) at their risk, as the Dolphins have discovered.
It’s worth noting that Martin’s mother is a noted lawyer specializing in employment matters in general and workplace harassment in particular. He thus has at his disposable able, zealous and, no doubt, free representation, something that will make him formidable in any forum.
BIG YANKEE SPITS BACK AT BIG BASEBALL—The 13 other targets of the Biogenesis doping investigations quietly accepted and served their penalties, but not Alex Rodriguez. The game’s highest-paid performer is fighting his 211-game suspension both in arbitration and in federal court. He’s accused Commish Selig and other MLB officials of conducting a personal vendetta against him, and has played the ethnic card by siccing at least one Hispanic group on baseball’s tail. That’s a lot nastier than these things usually get.
ARod can do this because 1) he’s very rich, having been paid about $250 million to play baseball to date, 2) doesn’t have much else to do, and 3) at age 38, a 1 1/3-season suspension, stretching into 2015, probably would end his baseball career, which could endanger the four years (and $86 million) remaining on his Yankees’ contract. With that at stake his decision to take his best shot is understandable.
Arod is a repeat steroids offender, but isn’t going into battle unarmed. The likely main witness against him, the defunct Miami “anti-aging” clinic’s owner Tony Bosch, is a con man, and much of the game’s documentary evidence either was stolen from Bosch by a disgruntled former employee or purchased from third parties whose backgrounds and motives are murky. Arod’s legal team, headed by the big-heat Washington lawyer and lobbyist Lanny Davis, no doubt will exploit those issues, both in and out of the hearing rooms. Baseball needs off-season attractions and this will be a good one.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE—Can you imagine an NFL game without penalties? It’s hard, but conceivable. Fact is, there was half such a game on November 4, when the Green Bay Packers played the Chicago Bears at Green Bay. The Packers were charged with no (as in zero) penalties that Monday night, while the Bears were flagged just four times. I didn’t realize this until I saw the box score the next day, but I remember enjoying the game, and not only because my Bears won.
I looked it up and learned that there have been four penaltyless games in NFL history. The last was in 1940, when the league possessed none of its enormous present self-importance. Penalty-free games for single teams are less rare, but happen about once a season.
Can an NFL team really go 60 minutes without breaking any of the league’s fat book of rules? No, which means that game officials didn’t see any infractions worth calling on the Pack that evening. What a precedent! If it spreads, NFL games might be watchable again.
Football has been described as violence punctuated by committee meetings. Now it’s violence punctuated by committee meetings and law-enforcement actions, the latter including the Talmudic-style rules discussions that go on while video reviews of officials’ calls spin out endlessly. No good play can be enjoyed until the field is scanned for penalty markers; “there’s a flag on the play” have become the six saddest words in sports. More zebra self-restraint would spare us some of that.