Richie Incognito is a vulgar offensive lineman. Of his five college and pro football teams, the Buffalo Bills are the only one that didn’t chase him away.
Tom Brady’s life is polished to a luster. He’s the face of the almighty New England Patriots, an NFL deity.
While in NFL exile, Incognito vented by taking a baseball bat to his $300,000 Ferrari FF hatchback. Brady spent part of his punishment hip to hip with his supermodel wife on Italy’s exclusive Amalfi Coast.
Brady, among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, embodies prestige. Incognito is known to casual sports fans as a bottom-shelf cretin.
They have little in common but would have so much to talk about after Sunday’s game in Gillette Stadium, if only Brady weren’t serving the last of his four-game suspension from the Patriots’ deflated-footballs scandal.
Brady and Incognito could come together at midfield and commiserate.
Incognito said he never has met Brady, let alone spoken to him. They’re from different planets, yet their orbits have encountered one common trajectory, crossing paths with “independent investigator” Ted Wells.
“I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone,” Incognito said. “I am sorry Tom had to be mistreated and have his reputation dragged through the mud. I wouldn’t wish that Ted Wells be subjected to the farcical process that he put Tom and me through.
“I am glad that everyone now knows the truth about these investigations. More importantly, I’m glad that my teammates in Buffalo know what all my teammates in Miami told Ted Wells, that I am a 100 percent team guy and will do everything for my brothers on the team.”
When the NFL hired Wells to investigate the bullying scandal that fissured the Miami Dolphins in 2013, Incognito was portrayed as the mushroom cloud. Incognito became a dark figure, harassment incarnate. The Pro Bowl left guard lost a season and a half of his career and, admittedly, his mind.
And the world figured he deserved it all.
He already owned the stigma of being the NFL’s dirtiest player. The University of Nebraska dumped him for misbehavior on and off the field. The St. Louis Rams waived him in the middle of his fifth season, tired of the hair trigger on his internal nuclear launch codes.
Wells’ report about the way Incognito and other Dolphins offensive linemen treated left tackle Jonathan Martin was accepted publicly without much examination.
Few would be skeptical about a reputed troglodyte getting reprimanded over a hot-button issue.
But castigating Captain Marvel over an equipment violation opened Wells to deeper inspection. Not until Brady joined Incognito’s club were people willing to examine the fairness of Wells’ methods.
Throngs of critics, including at least one federal judge, have questioned Wells’ methodology and motivations. They’ve wondered whether the NFL steered Wells or preordained the conclusions for him to bolster. The NFL paid his powerhouse law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison millions upon millions of dollars.
The NFL has defended the independent nature of Wells’ work, although it oddly announced the Patriots investigation would be led jointly by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, who also edited the final report. Wells’ firm also represented the NFL in court when Brady appealed.
A lawsuit stemming from the Dolphins case claimed a “high-ranking NFL official” was present for witness interviews.
“When I saw Ted Wells was handling the Patriots’ investigation,” former Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo said, “I just assumed it wasn’t going to end well for Tom Brady.”
Among Martin’s four O-linemates, Clabo was the only one not condemned in Wells’ 144-page Dolphins report. Clabo didn’t personally suffer in the aftermath, finishing the season and signing a two-year, $2.4 million contract with the Houston Texans.
Clabo seems about as neutral as one can remain with so much intimate knowledge of what happened among the group.
“Ted Wells had a clear agenda when he came to Miami,” Clabo said. “We got railroaded.”
Fans of another team might ask, “And so what?”
Some knuckle-draggers got their comeuppance in Miami, and Mr. Perfect, who can serve a suspension with his golden right arm wrapped around Gisele Bundchen’s waist while buffing four Super Bowl rings with his left hand, got put into timeout.
All fans should care.
“You shouldn’t have to wait as a Bills fan or a Vikings fan or a Raiders fan for your favorite player to be taken down before you demand a process with integrity,” said Incognito’s attorney, Mark Schamel, a Buffalo native now working in Washington, D.C.
“The NFL has shown there’s no due process and that it’s a farce. If you can go after the face of the league and trample on his due-process rights, then nobody’s safe.
“But it shouldn’t ever come to that. The kid fighting for a roster spot and bouncing back and forth from the practice squad should have the same rights as America’s quarterback.”
The NFL declined to comment for this story. Wells did not respond to an interview request.
Wells, 66, is one of the world’s most distinguished litigators. His clients have included senators, congressmen and labor leaders, Citigroup, Bank of America, Merck, Exxon Mobil and Philip Morris.
He represented top Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby in the 2007 CIA leak trial, Eliot Spitzer through the former governor’s 2008 prostitution scandal and successor David Paterson through a 2010 ethics probe.
When former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley ran for president in 2000, Wells was the campaign’s national treasurer.
The National Law Journal named Wells its Lawyer of the Year for 2006.
Imagine that deflated footballs – of all things – caused folks to reconsider Wells’ approach.
Wells has been hired to lead independent investigations involving four high-profile sports scandals. In each case, the conclusion supported the client’s stance.
Syracuse University in 2012 hired Wells’ firm to help examine how appropriately the school’s law firm handled child-molestation allegations made seven years earlier against assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine.
Wells’ report found Syracuse’s lawyers in many ways botched how they handled the allegations in-house, including a failure to interview other potential victims or to report the allegations to authorities. But the report concluded there was no attempt to cover up the allegations.
The accuser’s attorney, Gloria Allred, wrote the report “is a complete whitewash, is self-serving, suffers from a lack of transparency and raises more questions than it answers.”
The National Basketball Players Association hired Wells to investigate Billy Hunter, then the union’s executive director, after a falling out with union president Derek Fisher. The report raised questions about nepotism and travel arrangements.
Players ousted Hunter at the 2013 All-Star break. Hunter sued the NBPA and Fisher for breach of contract, claiming to be owed $10.5 million in salary and benefits.
“I don’t think anybody knew at the time how sinister the process was until the whole Deflategate thing,” said the agent of a Dolphins player interviewed by Wells in 2013.
The agent spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution for his client.
“Now we know Ted Wells’ true colors,” the agent said. “During the Bullygate thing, nobody really knew who Ted Wells was. He came across as very professional.
“Obviously, with Deflategate, we now know what a fraud this guy really is.”
Hardcore NFL fans likely have no clue who Kevin O’Neill is.
“I was surprised to get a call from you,” O’Neill told a reporter last week, “but I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to talk.”
O’Neill was the Dolphins’ chief athletic trainer for 19 years. He spent the previous seven years with the Dallas Cowboys, helping them win three Super Bowls before heading to South Florida with coach Jimmy Johnson.
The NFL Physicians Society named O’Neill its trainer of the year in February 2014.
Earlier that week, the Dolphins fired him for not cooperating with Wells’ investigation.
“I don’t think the NFL or the Wells group or, for that matter, the Dolphins were prepared for all the facets of the investigation,” O’Neill said.
Wells and his investigators tried to interview O’Neill about Martin’s and Incognito’s mental health histories. All NFL players sign Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act waivers to let a medical staff discuss their records with the team and the league. HIPAA waivers permit the NFL to release an injury report to media and fans three times a week.
“But this was supposed to be an independent investigation,” O’Neill said. “By law, I’m not allowed to talk to anyone else about medical records without a HIPAA release.”
O’Neill still refuses to discuss what was in those medical records, but he can comment on information divulged in Wells’ report.
Of particular interest was discovering Martin had a history of depression and suicidal thoughts never disclosed to the team.
“I was very surprised,” O’Neill said, “when I read the Wells report to learn of the significant mental-health history that Jonathan Martin provided.
“I’m the guy responsible for knowing the health history of the players, but the extent of Jonathan’s mental-health history from high school and college wasn’t divulged to us. I was unaware of it all prior to reading that report.”
Had Martin been forthcoming, perhaps the Dolphins could have been more proactive in addressing his needs.
Martin, a national spokesman for Beyond Differences, did not return messages left for him through the Bay Area organization focused on teen-isolation issues.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross fired O’Neill for insubordination. Wells’ report also mentioned O’Neill laughed at some of the offensive linemen’s antics that crossed a line.
Stained by the bullying scandal, O’Neill remained unemployed for two years and four months. He’s still bitter over the way the Dolphins protected then-coach Joe Philbin, who claimed not to be aware anything untoward was happening among his players.
“They found someone to hang it on, and they protected Joe Philbin because that was Ross’ guy,” O’Neill said. “Who was responsible for player conduct? Who was responsible for how the ship was being run? Who was responsible for all that? Well, it wasn’t Kevin O’Neill.”
There were vicious verbal attacks Incognito insists he regrets. Texts revealed Incognito called Martin the N-word, used homophobic slurs and made crude comments about having sex with Martin’s mother and sister.
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, who is biracial, and right guard John Jerry, who is black, joined Incognito in taunting Martin. They claimed they were trying to toughen Martin up.
The linemen also were cited in Wells’ report for making disparaging remarks to assistant trainer Noahisa Inoue, who is Japanese.
Offensive linemen operate with a pack mentality perhaps more than any other sports group. What some might deem unacceptable behavior, others could view as the type of humor an insult comic is expected to deliver at a celebrity roast.
“Some of those things happened, but not in context, and context is important,” Clabo said while picking up his son from football practice in Mount Airy, N.C., Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for Mayberry.
“Ted Wells determined who was discriminated against for them. Jonathan Martin would tell Ted Wells a story about someone being discriminated against, but that person didn’t agree.”
Offensive line coach Jim Turner, for example, was impugned for his treatment of backup lineman Andrew McDonald, known in Wells’ report as “Player A.”
Turner gave the linemen gag gifts for Christmas in 2012. Everybody received an inflatable sex doll, except McDonald’s was male.
“Ted Wells had all the information he wanted before he interviewed my client,” McDonald’s agent, Brett Tessler, said. “Andrew was in no way pleased with the way his relationship with Jim Turner was portrayed in the report.”
The Dolphins fired Turner, who unsuccessfully sued Wells for defamation. O’Neill sued the Dolphins for wrongful termination. The NFL referred the case to arbitration; it’s pending.
“Wells drug a lot of people into it,” Clabo said, “who didn’t have anything to do with it, who were happy with their jobs and liked coming to work every day, who felt their working environment was a good one. And then people lost their jobs for it.
“It was ridiculous. It was a hatchet job.”
Too many trips to the Wells
The Patriots suffered heavy consequences from a report that has been discredited by legal analysts and scientists with knowledge of how air pressure works in cold weather.
Accusations were made the Patriots tampered with footballs for the 2014 AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, deflating the balls to make them easier for Brady to grip.
Wells’ report concluded Brady was “generally aware” of a scheme to deflate footballs.
The NFL fined the Patriots $1 million, stripped them of their 2016 first-round and 2017 fourth-round draft choices and suspended Brady four games.
Similarly to O’Neill and Turner with the Dolphins, the Patriots fired a locker-room attendant and an assistant equipment manager.
The federal judge who questioned Wells’ impartiality merely delayed the inevitable. Brady’s suspension eventually was upheld because the NFL Players Association agreed to let NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell brandish the heavy hammer of justice.
“Tom’s case proves that none of us can stand up to this alone,” Incognito said. “Hopefully every fan will understand how biased this system is and see that the league needs a new process that is fair and honest. I appreciate our union for fighting so hard for us.
“I am so appreciative to Buffalo and the Bills for seeing past the false narrative and seeing me for who I am and embracing me. I love playing for this team and this community.”