Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin controversy: a lot of furor despite a lot of uncertainty

The Post Sports Live crew discusses the suspension of Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and why his racist and threatening text messages to teammate Jonathan Martin are not typical NFL hazing. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin story has now morphed into a “he texted-he texted” tale of the digital age. Oh, boy.

This is one of the strangest stories in recent memory, and recent memory includes a Notre Dame football player falling in love with a woman on the Internet who he not only never met, but who never existed, and was in fact a guy. Heaven help us, there’s even a name for this — catfishing — and a reality show about it.

Surely the Incognito-Martin story won’t generate a reality show — how interesting is it to watch two hulking guys text each other? — or a “Brian’s Song”-style movie. Incognito and Martin have exchanged more than 1,000 texts, which seems like a lot but perhaps is normal for offensive linemen. The content of some of Incognito’s musings are now well-known. Sunday, during an interview on Fox, Incognito defended himself by saying that that’s how friends talk to each other — I’ve been doing it wrong all these years, evidently — and offered up the fact that Martin had threatened to murder Incognito’s family as proof.

Now we learn, via Martin’s lawyer, that that threat was actually a meme: a photo of a laughing, seemingly harmless woman, holding what appears to be a laughing dog, with the message “I will murder your whole [expletive] family.” This is what passes for humor in 2013, sadly, but I wouldn’t consider it a serious threat — not as serious as some of the things Incognito texted Martin, which were definitely not in the form of memes.

We really don’t know much about Martin, who thus far has been smart enough to speak through his attorney and not give interviews on Sunday’s Fox pregame show. Incognito couldn’t stop himself, and by talking he certainly didn’t help himself. He is not destined for a career in the broadcast booth. Or in human resources, for that matter.

These revelations have led to Incognito’s suspension and an NFL investigation into the Dolphins organization. Since then, stories have surfaced about Dolphins veterans making rookies pay for expensive meals and trips to Las Vegas, among other rumored infractions. The report by attorney Ted Wells, appointed by the NFL to investigate, should be a doozy.

Meantime, bullying has again become a national topic. Specifically, is this bullying? These are two grown men, after all, and it seems to be covered under workplace rules by which most of us are expected to abide. But is there an age limit on bullying? A size limit?

When Martin went home and the story came out that he was being bullied by a teammate, Martin became the butt of jokes. It was only when the messages were released that Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins. There was overreaction to the initial story, overreaction to the second, and to everything else since then — including the spate of stories after Sunday’s interview, saying Martin had threatened Incognito’s family.

If Incognito is correct, and his text messages reflect the culture of the NFL locker room, that’s a sad commentary on NFL locker rooms. Most players from other teams, however, say that this wouldn’t have happened on their watch, and many of the Dolphins have rallied around Incognito.

Which makes you wonder what we’re missing, what we still don’t know. I don’t think we’re going to learn that Incognito is a much-maligned good guy; his texts speak for themselves, not to mention his past actions. Some believe he was acting at the behest of his coaches; again, there is no proof of that.

This story is far from over, however, and although it’s unfashionable not to leap to conclusions these days, it might be worth a try. But chances are the overreaction will continue until Martin speaks in his own defense, publicly or to Wells, and the NFL announces the results of the investigation. Until then, it’s a whole lot of speculation and finger-pointing, signifying nothing.

For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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