Richie Incognito is returning to the NFL, and we can only presume he has been properly rehabilitated after an extended absence to think about his locker room misdeeds.
Actually, we don’t need to presume. The new owner of the Buffalo Bills told us as much in a statement this week announcing the signing of the former chief bully for the Miami Dolphins.
“We are convinced that Richie is prepared to move forward and has and will continue to take the necessary steps to improve himself as a person and a teammate,” Terry Pegula said.
Incognito has had plenty of time to do just that after missing a year and a half of football in the wake of the Dolphins’ bullying scandal. Remember, though, that this is a guy who sent teammate Jonathan Martin fleeing from Miami and was once called “the dirtiest player in the NFL” by defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who just happens to be one of his new teammates.
Whether the Bills actually believe they’re getting a new and improved man in Incognito, they’re not taking much of a gamble in signing him. Not from teammates and coaches who will like what he brings to the offensive line and certainly not from fans, who tend to have short memory spans when it comes to misbehaving players.
The storyline is hardly new. We’re a society that embraces second chances, and that’s especially true in sports. Incognito is simply the latest of a long line of athletes who have resurrected themselves and their careers after facing public contempt.
He bullied Martin terribly, and seemed to get great pleasure from it. Incognito also was the focus of a May 2012 police report that said a female volunteer at a Dolphins charity golf tournament complained that Incognito touched her inappropriately with his golf club, leaned close to her as if dancing, and then emptied bottled water in her face.
A bully from the locker room to the golf course. Just the kind of guy you want representing your franchise.
But, hey, Incognito can still block, or at least the Bills believe he can. And that means something in the NFL, where memories are often short when it comes to talented players.
Michael Vick ran a dog fighting ring where dogs were killed in sick ways and still returned to cheers from fans in Philadelphia and New York. And you can be sure Adrian Peterson will be back, too, even if child abuse is especially repulsive.
No, it may not be with the Minnesota Vikings, but some die-hard Minnesota fans seem to have already forgiven Peterson. A handful of them showed up at his suspension hearing in Minneapolis last week in Vikings apparel to shout their support for his return.
Ray Rice and his wife, meanwhile, are doing everything they can to present the running back as a man who made one mistake and deeply regrets it. He’s eligible again to play in the NFL, and some team might sign him if they think his talent might somehow make the elevator video go away.
And does anyone think Jameis Winston won’t be a top pick in the NFL draft despite a woman claiming he sexually assaulted her at Florida State?
Rehabilitation can work wonders, even if it doesn’t actually always work. And fans have especially short memories when it comes to the stars they still want to see.
It’s not just NFL players, though the league seems to lead the way when it comes to misbehaving players.
Lance Armstrong still had a lot of people rooting for him despite his repeated lies about performance enhancing drug use. Barry Bonds is cheered every time he appears in public in San Francisco, and Alex Rodriguez surely will be if he hits seven more home runs this season to pass the great Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.
Does anyone even remember that Kobe Bryant faced sexual assault charges in Colorado in 2003 that could have put him in prison for years? Or the same Ray Lewis you see on Monday Night Football pleaded to obstruction charges stemming from the killing of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub in 2000?
Barely, and that’s the biggest thing Incognito has working in his favor. Memories grow fuzzy as time goes by, and even if we don’t forget we tend to forgive.
Incognito’s return is a little different. Assuming he can still block, he’ll play to cheers again, too.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/timdahlberg