Last night, I met Richie Incognito at Lambeau Field. Ok, it wasn’t actually Richie Incognito, but he was just like him. If you don’t know who Incognito is, you probably will soon.
Incognito is/was a star on the Miami Dolphins football team. Sadly, though, it appears he was far more than just a ridiculously talented athlete. There is mounting evidence that he is also a vicious bully. His former teammate, Jonathan Martin was picked on unmercifully by Incognito, on various occasions, and even received racially-charged texts, emails, and voicemails from him. Incognito reportedly referred to Martin (whom is bi-racial) as a “half n—–.”
Martin was disturbed enough by the treatment to leave the team. Bullying doesn’t end in high school, does it?
Last night, I was thrilled to have the chance to see the Chicago Bears defeat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It was an amazing experience, until I stood up (with almost the entire stadium) to see the Bears score a touchdown. After standing for a few seconds, I was shouted at from behind: “DOWN IN FRONT!!”
My friend and I turned around to receive angry glares from two large, middle-aged men, seated directly behind us. We told them that we’d sit as soon as the people in front of us sat down. They swore at us and made belittling, and hate-filled comments to us the rest of the night.
The abuse continued throughout the REST OF THE GAME. I saw unruly and drunk fans being kicked out at record speed, and several times I thought about asking the cops to get rid of the guys behind us, too. Then something happened inside me…and I turned around and asked:
“HOW OLD ARE YOU?” He yelled back “I’m 53 years old and I’ve had these seats since 1971, and NO ONE STANDS IN FRONT OF ME!”
I just turned back around and said nothing. His curiosity was killing him, so he asked: “why did you ask how old I am?”
I turned quickly back to him and said: “because I’m surprised that by YOUR age, that you still think it is ok to act like this.” That must have stuck with him, because he got up and walked out of the stands, swearing up a storm.
Then something interesting happened…the man sitting next to him leaned over and apologized for his behavior. And told us that his brother was terminally ill, and that his bitterness had overwhelmed him. Before he left, I asked the man what his brother’s name was and he said that it was Kenny. I told him that I’d pray for Kenny’s health and that he’d walk away from his bitterness. The man graciously thanked me and he left.
I certainly don’t know Richie Incognito’s experiences in his life, but I do know human behavior. And the truth is that HURT people hurt other people. Kenny lashed out because of his pain, and I would bet that Richie does, too.
Don’t get me wrong…Kenny is responsible for his ridiculous actions, and Richie is, too. And they both need to reap the consequences of their bad behavior. But…they also need people to see through their angst-filled exteriors to the heart of the matter and to offer them tastes of grace.
Kenny, I’m praying for you today. Richie, you can change, too. Own your bad behavior, ask for help, and move on. You’ll both be so thankful that you did. All of us will be, too.