Time for Dolphins to reinstate Richie Incognito

After Sunday's game, Incognito will have served 4-game suspension. That's enough.

Free Incognito

Dolphins fan makes his feelings known prior to the game against the Bucs on Nov. 11, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. (Joe Cavaretta, Sun Sentinel / November 11, 2013)

Richie Incognito doesn't deserve your cheers or your sympathy for the place his crude behavior, past and present, has landed him for nearly a month. But he deserves his job back.

Give him that. Incognito deserves reinstatement to the Dolphins when his suspension ends after Sunday's game, as NFL rules mandate he must be reinstated or released then. He deserves to hit the re-set button on his career, unless NFL investigator Ted Wells has a surprise before then.

When Jonathan Martin's camp released stories out of context to start this firestorm, and when Dolphins' management kept supporting Martin at every turn, Incognito came across as the biggest meathead in sports.

Maybe he still fits that label. But being a lout and being kept from working are two different ideas unless the Dolphins are going to act like they're coached by Mr. Manners again.

That idea, always suspect, went out the window when Bryant McKinnie was signed at left tackle. McKinnie has a unique history of his own. His signing last month said Joe Philbin is just like any other coach, high on roster ethics until it directly affects winning.

As this Martin saga has played out, as Incognito told his side to this story, as teammates backed him publicly, it became obvious two events kick-started this from an interesting story into something covered like a moon landing.

The first was ESPN's leak from Martin's camp of the infamous voicemail from Incognito to Martin. It was profane, vile. It involved the n-word and, with no context or a reporter caring to find any, the narrative of Incognito as a racial bully was set.

That took it beyond sports. It became a social issue. And the supporting proof of a villain came when the Dolphins did a public U-turn. Within hours on Nov. 3, they went from issuing a release saying nothing was wrong to issuing a release suspending Incognito.

That second act cemented Incognito as the problem. And there's a back story to the suspension. After Martin left the team Oct. 28, Incognito was asked if there was anything he did to cause Martin problems. Incognito said there wasn't.

Then the voicemail came out.

The team thought Incognito lied. Maybe he did. Or maybe he didn't consider something that was seven months old important, something Martin laughed about in the locker room, teammates later said.

The Dolphins already had one strike on Incognito. That was him sexually harassing a volunteer in May 2012 at a charity golf event that team officials helped him resolve.

Again, Incognito is no Ranger Rick. That's known here. And there are larger questions of team management for Philbin and General Manager Jeff Ireland that fold into this case, ones of how they could have Incognito lead this locker room and why they couldn't manage this situation.

But the question is what exactly is he guilty of in this Martin saga. Two weeks after Martin left, eight days after Incognito was suspended, owner Steve Ross spoke for the first time nad threw full support to Martin. Again, the idea was Incognito was entirely to blame from an insider who knew more than any outsider.

But look what's come out since: Incognito went on national TV and showed 1,142 texts between him and Martin, including a joking one in which Martin threatened to kill Incognito's family. That supported Incognito's claim his voicemail was a joke.

Incognito went over a line. That's his history going back to college. As it stands, here's what Incognito appears guilty of as his suspension comes to an end: (a) using the n-word in a private voicemail, and (b) sexually harassing a woman about 18 months ago.

But his behavior is Philadelphia receiver Riley Cooper used the n-word in public this summer. Neither the Eagles nor the NFL suspended him (though Cooper left training camp for a few days).

Incognito got four games for using the n-word on a private voicemail in which the participants had a history of strange communciation. That's not defending Incognito. It's asking: What now?

This team desperately needs his talent. This offensive line is in shreds. The running game is empty. If they're serious about their playoff chances, they don't throw a Pro Bowl player overboard for the sake of public relations. Which is what this would be about.

The Dolphins either have to reinstate or release him. And if he's released he'l be snatched up immediately by someone. Maybe even by a team that Dolphin are competing against.

This isn't a decision for Philbin or Ireland. It's Ross' team. He has to decide what's right for the franchise and fair for his player. Incognito has nearly served his suspension.

Reinstate him. He doesn't get cheers. But he should get his life back unless and until Wells presents evidence otherwise.

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