The truth buried Incognito.
The Twitter tirade Wednesday by the Miami Dolphins' guard was textbook bullying, veering from stating his own case about a professional rift into a ruthless personal attack.
"FACT:" Incognito wrote. "Jonathan Martin told me he thought about taking his own life in MAY 2013 b/c he wasn't playing well. Told me he felt worthless."
If sharing a man's confession at his weakest moment with 82,000 followers and millions of other fans isn't bullying, it's hard to imagine what would be.
Incognito didn't need to go there. He had already accused Martin's agent of starting "all of this" when he released a foul-mouthed voicemail to ESPN last season. That, coming after Martin left the team abruptly, led to Incognito's suspension from the team. "What do you have to say for your actions?" Incognito wrote Wednesday. "Why did you release the VM. What was your goal?"
Twitter might not be the best forum for that kind of argument, but it was understandable. Incognito is apparently frustrated with the delay in an NFL investigation that affects his life and his future. He's upset that an agent may have ruined his career. All of that is somewhat sympathetic, if not necessarily smart.
However, exploiting a man's confession, in a private moment, was way beyond that. Outing someone as suicidal, and using that to lift your own public profile, is a true low blow. If Martin's admission never happened, Incognito's tweet is potentially defamatory in a legal sense. If it did happen, it raises all sorts of other questions, like how Incognito reacted to this confession. Did he go to the team? Did he try to assist his teammate by recommending counseling? Incognito was a member of the leadership council, so what kind of leadership did he show? And where were the Dolphins in all this?
Bullying isn't just beating somebody up on the playground. Sometimes power is expressed by a show of caring followed by a show of force. That's exactly what happened in this case, months after the alleged bullying took place when Incognito and Martin were teammates. Just a few days ago, Incognito tweeted that he supported Martin "100 percent in his return to football in 2014." Now comes this, which clearly undermines Martin's return to football in 2014. Incognito mock-confessed being "guilty of being a loyal friend and a good teammate," but a loyal friend and good teammate (or ex-teammate) would never talk about another man's suicidal thoughts on Twitter. In a league filled with personnel executives who flee any sign of mental illness like it's the plague, Incognito's Twitter assault is a landmine for Martin when he needed it least. (It's also a landmine for the next potentially suicidal athlete who considers revealing his innermost secrets to a trusted friend on the team.)
Incognito's comments are also a clear violation of the so-called "code," where what happens between men inside the locker room should stay there. That's what many, including Incognito himself, accused Martin of violating. But whatever Martin or his agent did by releasing a voicemail that included foul and threatening language isn't as bad as Incognito mentioning Martin's personal crisis during a social media tirade. That particular tweet didn't help Martin, the Dolphins, or Incognito himself. He was not being a good friend and good teammate. Nor was he being a good citizen.
Incognito did apologize "to all the women out there that I offended with my text messages to my close personal friend." Those text messages, although filled with friendly banter, are disturbing at times. "U good dude?" Incognito wrote last May. "Did u get some chick pregnant? I'll help u off her if that's the case." That comment, when coupled with Incognito's behavior at a Dolphins golf outing, in which he was accused of sexually harassing a female volunteer, is a window into the lack of respect Incognito shows to those who aren't his boys. That's also what we saw in this Twitter rant.
No doubt the last several months have been difficult for Richie Incognito. His entire world was disrupted by a very public display of his foul language and hurtful behavior. He wants to protect his livelihood. That's understandable.
What's not understandable is wielding another man's crisis as a cudgel. What's not understandable is trying to win back your reputation by bringing up the suicidal thoughts of a "close personal friend." Making yourself appear strong by making another person appear weak might work on the football field.
In the rest of functioning society, that's known as bullying.