In August, video emerged of Eagles receiver Riley Cooper using a racial epithet at a Kenny Chesney concert. For the next several days, it was the dominant topic in the NFL, and it created real issues in the Philly locker room.
Last Monday, a transcript emerged of a voice message in which Dolphins guard Richie Incognito used the same term — preceded by “half” — toward Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin. Somehow, the same outrage and consternation never emerged.
Even before members of the Dolphins excused Richie for using the term, the reaction among the media and fans and NFL players was muted. It’s almost as if the Riley Cooper situation desensitized the sports world.
It didn’t desensitize Shannon Sharpe of CBS. As shared by Peter King of TheMMQB.com, Sharpe expressed eloquent outrage over a white player’s casual use of the term.
“The Miami Dolphins locker room probably consists of 75 to 80 percent blacks,” Sharpe said. “If you allow Richie Incognito to walk around in an open locker room and to use a racial epithet that most black Americans, all black Americans, know the . . . hate and the vitriol that comes with that word, you are encouraging him to do that. I read, and I don’t know, this is alleged, that some black players said Richie Incognito was an honorary black. There is no such thing. This tells me everything I need to know about the Miami Dolphins locker room.
“Maybe it’s me. Just ask your parents. Ask your grandparents. The mountain that they climbed so a black person in America could have respect, could have dignity, and you allow this in an open locker room to take place is unacceptable. I’m so disappointed. . . . Because if you’re black, you know what that word means.”
Also not desensitized was Hines Ward of NBC’s Football Night in America.
“Being biracial myself, I understand Jonathan Martin, because I had to deal with some of those same issues growing up,” Ward said during Sunday’s show. “As a child, I was bullied and discriminated against because I was of mixed race. I heard some of the guys throughout the league say that Jonathan Martin should be a man and fight back. But for me it takes a bigger man to walk away from the situation. [I]n the locker room we don’t play with the ‘N’ word. When a guy calls another man of the opposite race the ‘N’ word, there are no more games being played.”
To their credit, the Dolphins hadn’t been desensitized either. Something allowed them to immediately suspend Incognito after receiving the voice message last Sunday, and that something quite likely was Incognito’s use of the “N” word toward Martin.
But the use of the racial slur by Incognito — at a time when there’s increasing debate over whether “Redskins” is a racial slur — somehow has been disregarded by folks who are instead arguing over minutiae like whether Martin’s “I will murder your whole f–king family” text message to Incognito shows that Martin was a participant in the rough-and-tumble locker-room banter when Martin simply was forwarding an Internet meme to Incognito and not actually typing the words with his fingers and thumbs.
While the distinction is important for assessing the credibility of Incognito’s defense, perhaps there needs to be more discussion about the indefensible thing he said to Martin, even if Incognito was indeed just joking.