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Updated: November 5th, 2013 6:28am
P.J.R.: The Richie Incognitos are racists, louts and thieves

P.J.R.: The Richie Incognitos are racists, louts and thieves

by Patrick Reusse
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The Vikings of yore had a tradition of sending rookies to a local grocery store to pick up their "free turkey'' for Thanksgiving. It became such a routine prank that the local TV sports crews would lobby with veteran players for the right to set up the hidden camera behind the meat counter to film whatever rookies might be duped into stopping for their turkey.

This was basically harmless fun - even when the players were able to convince one naïve lad into showing up for his turkey both as a rookie and when he was still with the club a year later.

This is about as far as the pranks should go with younger teammates.

Remember the Love Boat? The part of that story that didn't get enough attention is that a party/orgy during the bye week had become an annual event that the rookies were brow beat into financing.

The players had taken over downtown clubs and excessively tipped the staff to keep a lid on the goings-on in previous years. It was only when they decided to take the party to the water - and boat goers were spotted relieving themselves in someone's yard - that the gendarmes and then the media took an interest.

Lap dances and other physical gratifications didn't offend me as much as the idea that rookies were being extorted into paying for the moral turpitude of what were generally better-paid teammates.

And that's part of the Richie Incognito story unfolding in Miami that is being underplayed:

The idea that the vulgar, ridiculous oaf found it perfectly acceptable to steal 15, 20, even 30 thousands of dollars from his rookie teammates, for parties and meals and trips to Las Vegas.

It is unfortunate how many young players have been made to suffer emotionally (and financially) due to the intimidation of Incognito and other jackasses in a distorted culture "team building'' that can exist in football locker rooms.

I was heading to the newspaper office early Tuesday morning and heard a clip replayed from Freddie Coleman's national show that runs late at night on ESPN radio. Freddie was defending Incognito to some degree, on the basis that three black players from the Dolphins were saying that they had no problem with Incognito - that they liked having him around, while none had come to the defense of Incognito's target, Jonathan Martin.

One of these defenders of Incognito was receiver Mike Wallace. There's a great character reference ... Mike Wallace, the guy who Tweeted about the possibility of gay players going public in the NFL:

"All these beautiful woman in the [world] and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH ...''

SMH, as in Shake My Head.

I did agree with part of Coleman's assessment of the Incognito situation, that being:
The Dolphins' coaching staff was aware of the manner in which Incognito was conducting himself; that he was "toughening up'' young players with the tacit approval of Joe Philbin, the empty shirt who coaches the Dolphins.

Note: I reached that conclusion on Philbin after watching start to finish the Dolphins' participation as the featured team in the 2012 "Hard Knocks.'' Philbin had more screen time than anyone, and none of it was impressive.

There's a difference between agitation and abuse. Listening to players send one-liners zinging across a locker room is worth a smile. A prank aimed at a player of equal standing is worthy fodder.

My favorite was in what had to be 2002, when David Ortiz and Corey Koskie were teammates with the Twins. They were also pals. Ortiz had ordered a very flashy suit - a gold-ish brown with some navy striping - that was hanging proudly in the Big O's locker.

The Twins were leaving after the game for a road trip and Ortiz would be looking good.

Koskie was not in the lineup that day. He was in the trainer's room for much of the game, rehabbing an injury that was almost healed. When Ortiz returned to the clubhouse after the game, Koskie came walking casually past, wearing the Big O's suit.

That was fun, hearing Ortiz bellow his indignation.

Stealing money, making threats, claiming the right to throw out the "N'' word ... that's not. That was Richie Incognito.

There was an ESPN panel on the subject on Monday night. Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Ditka all criticized Incognito. But Tom Jackson ... he spoke from the heart, starting with the statement that Incognito was a "racist'' and going from there.

It was brilliant. And accurate in its bottom line: There should be no place for the Richie Incognitos of the world in a locker room, or a clubhouse.

They are racists. They are louts. And they are thieves.


Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse