On Sunday, Richie Incognito sat down for an exclusive interview with reporter-friend-business associate Jay Glazer of FOX Sports. If you have not seen it yet, the entirety of it—along with the transcript—is here. The entire thing played out more as a PR show than a meaningful conversation, a point discussed at length by Dave Zirin at The Nation.
One of the topics that Glazer attempted to address with Incognito was the vulgar voicemail he left for Jonathan Martin. In a story with so many gaps and so much left unexplained, this voicemail has become the lightning rod for the discussion of what’s acceptable behind closed doors in a locker room and the casual use of the N-word in that environment.
Incognito’s defense is that this is how offensive linemen communicate with each other, and even though the use of the derogatory term doesn’t appear to be in a friendly context, there’s something to takeaway in what Incognito is trying to explain.
Friendships are established through time spent together, as children having nothing better to do but hang out, as teenagers doing stupid things, as adolescence doing grown-up things, or, as two offensive linemen bonding through a shared goal of protecting the quarterback. There’s a privacy to these experiences, and part of that confidentiality allows for inappropriateness, which includes jokes and exchanges that you probably never intend for the public to know.
Which—if we believe the voicemail to be as harmless as Incognito says—is what happened here, a private exchange never meant for anyone else to hear. What a person says in confidence to a friend is, in fact, much different from what a person would say if he knew that those words would reach the public. Football players are no different in this regard.
I don’t agree with the explanation, but it is not entirely difficult to rationalize and understand the thought process behind it. But the part that really bothered me when I re-watched the interview on Monday was this exchange:
Glazer: But there’s one thing in saying that and another thing with a white man using the N-word. How do you expect anybody in America to believe you’re not a racist?
Incognito: I’m not racist. To judge me by that one word is wrong. It’s a sensitive issue. I’m not a racist and those closest to me know that.
The most important passage of Lemieux’s piece explains the thought process of those who decide to don blackface for their own entertainment:
"This is not a case of a missing “sensitivity chip.” This is someone weighing your Black history and your Black pain versus their own sense of folly and choosing themselves. And that, beloveds, is what White privilege is all about. “I hear what you all are saying, but at the end of the day, I come first.”
And that’s exactly what Incognito did when he looked into the camera, to tell us: I know what you are all thinking, and why you would have reason to think that, but at the end of the day, I come first, and if I do not believe I had racist intentions, then you really should not judge me by my actions because I said so. Because I come first.