Prized for His Aggression, Incognito Struggled to Stay in Bounds — (New York Times)

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The New York Times

By BILL PENNINGTON

Published: November 8, 2013

He was a timid Little Leaguer teased by opponents and belittled by teammates. He was mocked for being pudgy and gentler than the other boys, even though he was bigger than most of them.

Then, urged by his father, the Little Leaguer fought back, pummeling one of his tormentors, blackening both his eyes.

The chunky boy grew up to become a menacing 320-pound N.F.L. lineman who was largely unknown outside football circles — until he was accused of being a big-league bully.

Richie Incognito was suspended by the Miami Dolphins, his third N.F.L. team in five years, amid allegations that he bullied Jonathan Martin, his teammate on the offensive line who left the team last week and has not returned. The news hardly came as a shock to most of those who had crossed paths with Incognito since his college years. A snarling, tattooed, 6-foot-3 dynamo, Incognito dominated opponents even as he stretched the boundaries of civil conduct during games and in everyday life.

But whatever trouble Incognito encountered — and there were numerous scrapes with the law, with coaches and with teammates from New York to Oregon — there was always a football team that wanted him. In a game in which intimidation rules, coaches mostly prized Incognito’s aggression and were willing to overlook his other problems.

But how did Incognito, plump-cheeked and boyish even in his college photo, transform into a man suspected of terrorizing his own teammate, referring to him publicly as the Big Weirdo? It would be simplistic to point to a childhood fistfight as a turning point, but people from Incognito’s past still remember the teasing he endured as a kid, and the response he delivered.

The fight “sent the right message to the town,” said Seth Bendian, who gave Richie private baseball instruction near his hometown, Bogota, N.J. “And Richie remained a nice, quiet kid.”

Incognito became more aggressive as his career developed until he landed in Miami, which had a locker room culture that seemed unchecked. Glimpses of that world that have emerged in recent days have ignited a national debate over the fuzzy area between camaraderie and bullying.

Martin’s lawyer said Thursday that Martin had endured more than a year of physical and verbal abuse, including a threat against his sister. He blamed Dolphins teammates, but did not single out Incognito. Martin, who reportedly has kept a menacing and racist voice mail from Incognito, is cooperating with an N.F.L. investigation. At the center of it all is Incognito, 30, who has spent virtually his entire adult life struggling to keep his behavior within accepted limits of propriety.

If that was a challenge, it could be because his uncompromising aggression and noted mean streak have so often been prized in football.

In 2005, less than a year after off-field transgressions ended his college career at Nebraska and Oregon in the same summer, Incognito was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the third round of the draft.

Mike Martz, the Rams coach then, said the team wanted players with attitude. “Because that’s the way the game is played in the N.F.L., obviously,” Martz said. “That nastiness is evident, especially in Incognito.”

This week, one of his teammates and friends from Nebraska and the Rams, kicker Josh Brown, assessed Incognito differently.

“There were rumors that he would barricade himself in his room, signs of depression,” Brown, now with the Giants, said. “There was fighting and outbursts.”

Brown shook his head.

“I know that’s not the whole Richie,” he said. “That’s what’s sad. But it’s in there.”

In Bogota, those who knew Incognito in the late 1980s and early 1990s are shaking their heads, too.

“That’s the not the nice kid we knew,” said Pat McHale, a former youth baseball coach and the current Bogota mayor. “His family was strait-laced. His father was the director of umpires.”

Richie’s father, Richard, a self-described devotee of the artist Norman Rockwell, grew up on the packed streets of Union City, N.J., a gritty landscape not often depicted on a Rockwell canvas. Just as Richie was turning 12, the Incognitos moved to Glendale, Ariz. At Mountain Ridge High School, Incognito, once teased for his size, quickly became the school’s featured athlete. Richie worked hard, but he did lead the team in penalties, according to Jim Ewan, the coach.

Ewan did not expect Incognito to have a controversial future or be labeled a troublemaker.

“The first red flag is whatever happened at Nebraska,” he said.

A lot happened at Nebraska.

 

Karen Crouse, Ken Belson and Greg Bishop contributed reporting, and Alain Delaqueriere contributed research

 

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Dolphins’ Incognito credits drug Paxil for changing his life

TheScore.com

August 30, 2013

Considered by many to be the NFL’s dirtiest player, Miami Dolphins offensive guard Richie Incognito wants you to know he’s mellowed out in recent years.

Incognito opens up about his battles with alcohol, drugs and anger in an NFL.com piece.

Incognito reveals he once asked running back Ricky Williams to teach him to meditate, but gave up because it made him feel “like a fruit loop.”

Darlington points to a recent incident in which Incognito and Houston Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith battled on the field and Smith ripped Incognito’s helmet from his head and tried to strike him in the face with it (for which Smith was suspended one regular season game) as evidence Incognito has since matured.

“Multiple players say [Dolphins coach Joe] Philbin was fired up … proud of Incognito and center Mike Pouncey for walking away from a provocative situation,” Darlington writes.

Incognito insists recent allegations he punched a bouncer are untrue. Instead, Darlington says witnesses report Incognito was only involved because he was trying to break up a fight.

What does Incognito credit for this turnaround?  Darlington says he was prescribed the drug Paxil, often used to treat depression, a few years ago.

“It was a life changer,” Incognito says. “It was a game changer.”

“I made a lot of mistakes,” he adds. “I made a ton of mistakes. And I was really hard on myself, and I’ve learned from them. I’ve used those mistakes to motivate me and to take me to new heights.”