Rex Ryan openly declared he was trying to “build a bully,” and then went out and signed one.
So it stands to reason that in Buffalo, one of the centers of nationwide non-bullying movements, the signing of Richie Incognito might not be going over so well.
Tim Graham of the Buffalo News talked to local advocates, and as you might imagine, they’re not thrilled with the addition of the guard who was out of the league last year after the Dolphins bullying scandal.
Of course, that wasn’t his first instance of abusive behavior, which included a 2012 incident at a Dolphins-sponsored golf tournament, in which he was accused of rubbing his golf club against a woman’s privates, knocking the glasses off her head and throwing water at her face. A civil lawsuit was settled out of court in that case.
“It does feel like a slap in the face,” said Amanda Nickerson, director of the University at Buffalo’s Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention. “That this is happening right here in Buffalo.”
Attention to the cause peaked in Buffalo after the 2011 suicide of local high school student Jamey Rodemeyer, who complained about being the target of homophobic bullying since middle school. His cause became a national phenomena, with everyone from Lady Gaga to the television show “Glee” making reference.
And with the attention that Incognito and Ryan will bring to the Bills, it’s a tough moment for Rodemeyer’s father, who said he’s a Bills fan.
“I just hope he’s turned over a new leaf,” Tim Rodemeyer said of Incognito. “You have to be concerned with his pattern of behavior, but it’s a team trying to win. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.
“But if something else happens, they better get rid of him. I would not be happy if they kept him.”
Nickerson said it was odd for Buffalo, a center for research on the topic, to become the home of a player who by all rights should be Exhibit A in their presentations.
“Can people be redeemed? Should we give second chances?” Nickerson asked. “Absolutely, if we’re talking about a kid or a first offense.
“I’m concerned about it. If it was just Incognito’s issues from 2013, that would be one thing. But there’s been a history of aggressive and violent and demeaning behavior that is hard to ignore. . . .
“People should hear from him, and not just an empty message. What specifically has he learned from his past? What he done to take steps to change it? If he had treatment or intervention, how did it make him reflect on his behavior?”
The Bills insist they’re taking the issue seriously, with owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim meeting with Incognito before he was signed. They say they’re convinced Incognito is working to fix things, and not just his image.
If that turns out to not be the case, their community will be watching.