It was just Sunday that Richie Incognito posted a philosophical message on Twitter.
“Three things cannot be long hidden,” he wrote. “The sun, the moon, and the truth.”
Maybe the truth cannot be hidden for long, but when it comes to uncovering the real Richie Incognito, be prepared to weed through total eclipses.
Is he the dirtiest player in the NFL, as surveys of his peers allege? Or a “good guy,” a label the South Florida media bestowed upon him last year for his cooperation with reporters?
Is he someone who overcame behavioral shortcomings to become a leader on the Dolphins? Or, as the current firestorm alleges, a bully whose threats caused teammate Jonathan Martin to walk out?
“Who is the real Richie?” Jim Ewan, Incognito’s high school coach in Arizona, wondered Monday.
It’s a question the Dolphins want answered, having indefinitely suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team. The NFL launched an investigation into whether Incognito harassed Martin by reportedly sending racially charged and threatening messages to a fellow offensive lineman whose locker was just a few feet away.
Monday afternoon, Incognito’s locker remained filled as teammates cautiously deflected questions about what went on. Among those testifying to his character were receiver Mike Wallace, who said, “I love Richie,” and defensive tackle Jared Odrick, who described him as “a fun-loving guy.”
Could he also be someone who directed racial slurs toward a teammate?
“Richie’s not that type of guy,” defensive end Derrick Shelby said. “Richie’s a guy, if you had to get a guy to get your back, I’d pick Richie. Richie’d be first for a couple of guys. I don’t think what people are saying about him is true.”
Incognito’s critics include New York Giants kicker Josh Brown, a former teammate at Nebraska and with the St. Louis Rams, Incognito’s first NFL team.
“None of it shocks me,” Brown told the New York Daily News. “I don’t know any details, obviously. The league hasn’t released anything. But Richie seems to be a person with a tortured soul. He’s had these issues for quite a while and it’s sad.”
Incognito, 30, has frequently talked in recent seasons about how he had worked to clean up his act and his image. Fed up with repeated confrontations that included giving home fans the middle finger, then-Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo waived him in December 2009 even though the team invested a 2005 third-round draft pick on him.
“It’s been a work-in-progress for me,” Incognito said during training camp this year of efforts to avoid on-field incidents. “It’s something I’ve been working on for many years now. I have too much respect for my teammates and too much respect for the hard work that we put in to retaliate and affect this team negatively.”
It’s a familiar refrain. “I’ve got to tone it down a little,” he said — in 2003.
That’s not the Richie Incognito that Ewan knew as his coach at Mountain Ridge High in Glendale, Ariz.
“There was nothing like this in high school,” Ewan said, describing Incognito as a low-maintenance player and good student whose biggest transgressions were “his share of 15-yard penalties.” Ewan said there were only two African-American players on the team and never racial issues involving Incognito.
“On one hand, people think he’s a good guy and a good teammate,” Ewan said. “Then we get reports like this. It’s hard to say.”
Ewan lost touch with Incognito since his high school days.
“I wish I could tell you this was just a time bomb that was going tick-tick-tick but there wasn’t one,” said Ewan, who also coached Dolphins first-round draft pick Dion Jordan.
In 2010, then-Dolphins coach Tony Sparano and General Manager Jeff Ireland signed Incognito as a free agent.
“My conversations with Richie were really open, really honest,” Sparano said in October 2010. “We talked a lot about the number of opportunities he had left and really having to do the right things, how I might be able to help him, and he might be able to help me.”
The Dolphins gave him a one-year contract but said if problems resurfaced, he could be released at any time.
Last fall, coach Joe Philbin praised Incognito for keeping his cool during a confrontation with Houston’s Antonio Smith, with whom Incognito has had several run-ins.
“I thought he displayed excellent poise,” Philbin said at the time.
But in August, the other side of Incognito surfaced when it was reported he was involved in a brawl at Club Liv, a South Beach club. Incognito was not charged, and it was unclear who was the instigator or if Incognito threw a punch.
“I have friends at Club Liv who told me he punched a bouncer and say he’s a real knucklehead,” said former Packers defensive back LeRoy Butler, now a broadcaster in Green Bay. “He’s got some anger-management problems. When you’re a grown man you keep doing that, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get shot.”
Possibly one item everyone can agree on is he’s complicated. He admits so in his Twitter bio: “All Star Wild Child. #68 on the field but #1 in your heart!!”
Incognito went on the offensive early Sunday. But by the end of the day, when his suspension was announced, his tweets against ESPN reporter Adam Schefter had been deleted. One tweet that was not erased was dated Aug. 30: “Shout out to @J Martin 71 for being the biggest weirdo I know.”
Incognito’s listed college is Nebraska, where he spent three seasons as a starter, but he was dropped in 2004 by coach Bill Callahan for repeated violations of team policy. Incognito transferred to Oregon, where coach Mike Bellotti laid out a series of requirements, including an anger-management class. Days later, before Incognito even attended a Ducks practice, he was dropped for failing to meet Bellotti’s demands, although the coach did not elaborate on Incognito’s shortcomings.
Incognito’s father, Richie Sr., is a pool builder in Arizona and a Vietnam War veteran who recently told NFL.com he encouraged his sons to stand up for themselves.
“I’d always tell Richie, ‘You don’t take no (expletive) from anyone. If you let anyone give you (expletive) now, you’re going to take (expletive) your entire life,” Richie Sr. said.
In that NFL.com story, Richie Jr. said he had begun taking Paxil, a medication for disorders ranging from depression to anxiety.
“When I got down here to Miami and I realized it was my last opportunity, that’s when I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do whatever it takes to make me right,’ ” Incognito said. ” … It was a life changer. It was a game changer.”