By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
People who know me well, and even those who don’t probably know I’ve been an Oakland Raiders fan for many years.
My love affair with the Silver and Black goes back to the 1977 double overtime playoff game at old Memorial Stadium, when the Raiders beat the Baltimore Colts in the heartstopping “Ghost to the Post” game of lore and legend, 37-31. The Raiders won their first of three Super Bowls that year.
Over the decades, I’ve loved the renegade Raiders through the good and the bad and in recent years, there has been a lot of bad in the form of many, many losses. But, recently the team did some “bad” I might not get over anytime soon.
The Raiders, seeking to add some depth to their offensive line after executing what was a successful 2019 NFL Draft, signed Richie Incognito, the formerly vanquished NFL offensive guard. Incognito, who built an all-pro caliber career with the Miami Dolphins also became infamous for what many describe as racist bullying during his time in Miami.
In 2013, Incognito’s teammate and fellow lineman Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team in November in the midst of the season. Allegedly, Martin, who is biracial said he was bullied constantly by Incognito, who on a voicemail dated April 2013, referred to Martin as a “half-ni—r piece of s—.” Incognito also reportedly threatened to kill Martin and harm members of his family during that same voicemail. Subsequently, Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins.
The reality is the “relationship” between Incognito and Martin, who has grappled with some significant mental health and substance abuse issues, was dubious beyond the obvious racist hostility Incognito exhibited. Testimony by teammates suggested the two were actually friends and Incognito’s actions were urged by the Dolphins’ management to somehow “toughen up” Martin.
But, what is very clear is Incognito’s troubles continued after his stint with the Dolphins.
Incognito sat out the 2014 NFL season, but got picked up in 2015 by the Buffalo Bills. With Buffalo, Incognito seemed to reinvent himself and reestablish his pro bowl level of play on the field and was rewarded with pro bowl selections in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
But, by 2018, Incognito was put on an “involuntary psychiatric hold” for an altercation at a gym in Boca Raton, Fla., where the troubled football player was in “an altered paranoid state” and allegedly hurled a dumbbell at another patron of the gym.
Also in 2018, Incognito was arrested and taken into custody in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he allegedly threatened to shoot funeral home employees while he made funeral arrangements for his father. Police reportedly recovered three rifles, two glocks and a handgun from Incognito’s truck.
Against this sordid backdrop, the Raiders decided to take a chance on Incognito, a player who has exhibited virulently racist and violent behavior, which would be warrant permanent termination in just about any workplace in America.
But, not the NFL.
For me, the Raiders decision to sign Incognito is even more maddening given the team’s storied history off of the field.
The Raiders organization under the leadership of pioneering American Football League (AFL) maverick Al Davis became the first NFL team in the modern era to hire a Black head coach, Art Shell in 1989. Prior to Shell’s hiring, the Raiders and Davis hired Tom Flores, the league’s first Hispanic head coach in 1979. In 1997, Davis hired Amy Trask as the CEO of the Raiders, the first woman executive in NFL history.
As a Raiders fan for life, I hope Incognito is dealing with his mental health issues in a pragmatic way, guided by mental health professionals, and he has buried his racist ways deep inside his 320 pound body. I hope he has an outstanding season with the Raiders on an offensive line that protects our quarterback Derek Carr. I hope Carr throws for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, with newly signed all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown doing much of the offensive damage for the Silver and Black. And I hope the Raiders win Super Bowl 54 (Hey, a Brother can dream can’t he?).
But, at the end of the day I just don’t understand how Richie Incognito gets chance after chance to compete and get paid in the NFL. The same league that has effectively banned Colin Kaepernick for life, because he took a knee and in the process stood against police brutality for millions of Black and Brown people.
Then again, I do understand; it’s not that complicated. The NFL is just as racist as America has always been.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.