It was a cool New England night and all the focus of the sports world was on the World Series at tiny Fenway Park, here in Boston. The date was October 30 and, with the Red Sox win over the St. Louis Cardinals and the World Series trophy glimmering in Boston manager John Farrell's hands, we all knew it was the last night we'd see baseball bats and gloves until pitchers and catchers report next spring.
The seasons change and so do I, so please tell me who the Boston Bruins, Celtics and the New England Patriots are playing next. We all need to know.
It was only 22 days ago but it seems like an eternity since that glorious Wednesday afternoon, the day before Halloween. Sadly, it was also the first day we heard the vague reports of the Miami Dolphins locker room scandal involving then-teammates offensive guard Richie Incognito and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, also known as the Dolphins harassment story or bullying case.
Here is the timeline of events since that October day:
Oct. 30: Martin went AWOL from Miami Dolphins training facility after reports of incident in team cafeteria
Nov. 1-2: Mostly quiet on the Dolphins front but story begins a slow boil. NFL Players Association story broke that union was not investigating issue.
Nov. 3: In the morning, the team issued a statement to the effect of "any notion of bullying in this instance" is speculation. By sundown, the team had suspended Incognito "indefinitely."
Nov. 5: Miami Dolphins players rallied around Incognito with verbal support via comments to burgeoning press corps.
Nov. 6-8: The story went viral and global.
Nov. 9: Reports of another incident, a full year and a half earlier, are met with team statements that they "took immediate action" on a golf course incident involving Incognito.
Nov. 10: The NFL investigation into incident becomes public knowledge. The league soon appointed Ted Wells to conduct independent investigation.
Nov. 10: In an interview with Fox Sports, Incognito says he "regrets" racial slurs used but calls much of the reporting "out of context."
Nov. 10: Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland was quoted as earlier (Nov. 7) saying that Martin should "punch" Incognito.
Nov. 11: Reports surfaced that Dolphins must make personnel decisions related to the indefinite suspension by Dec. 2, to reinstate or release Incognito.
Nov. 11: Miami Dolphins owner Steven Ross stirred the pot further with comments stating he is "appalled" by situation, and planned to meet with Martin.
Nov. 12: NFL steps in, postponed Dolphins owner Steve Ross meeting with Martin.
Nov. 13: Miami coach Joe Philbin called reports "overblown."
Nov. 14: Incognito filed grievance with NFL Players Association.
Nov. 15: Martin met with Wells and NFL investigators. Martin stated he planned to resume career.
Nov. 18: NFL investigators request all involved to "respect process" of investigation.
Nov. 19: NFL investigator Wells interviewed Miami offensive line coach Jim Turner and center Mike Pouncey.
Nov. 19: Reports surfaced of Incognito and teammate verbally abusing front office staff member.
Nov. 20: NFL investigators met with Dolphins team GM Jeff Ireland.
That is 22 days, not 22 minutes of activity but inaction, so here now, is the news. In my humble opinion, there is one way and only one way to get to the bottom of the situation and to do what is right.
I ask? What would Vince Lombardi do?
Of course, the late, great Lombardi cannot help us as it's been 40 years since his death in 1970. So, I did the next best thing to asking Lombardi himself. I asked Dan Lauria, star of stage and screen and the man who artfully, gracefully, respectfully played Lombardi on Broadway, to provide his insight into what Lombardi might think of today's NFL as compared to the NFL of the 1950s or 60s. That was an NFL where racial slurs weren't the issue because racial quotas were, indeed the issue.
Of course, Lombardi didn't buy into the civil rights limits of the day, where NFL teams not only refused to field African-American (black) quarterbacks but were not playing black linebackers.
"I didn't draft a linebacker," said Lauria, quoting Lombardi, "I drafted a Packer."
That set the tone for a frank conversation with Lauria as I caught up to him in Boston where he is starring in "The Christmas Story" at Wang Theatre in Boston from November 20 through December 8.
Like any great coach, Lauria gave Incognito the full benefit of the doubt in terms of protocol or even lack thereof in the average NFL locker room.
"Let's assume Incognito is right in the way he saw it, but I think it's very presumptuous of anyone to 'take that mantle/take that place' where, 'with me, it's okay.' If someone did give him 'permission' to do that, then there are going to be enough other players to step up and say, 'you should've never done something like that because you don't understand the history."
Waxing philosophic on the arts right from his uncanny perspective as a Broadway and television screen actor, Lauria looked back to the skillful portrayal of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers in the Peabody and Emmy Award winning tele-motion picture "Brian's Song," and he fondly remembered a scene where the practical joking Piccolo (James Caan) told Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) that legendary Bears coach George Halas (Jack Warden) was hard-of-hearing in one ear.
"That was an individual thing between one person and another one," said Lauria, noting the two Bears teammates who were fast becoming friends. "Incognito took a little license in one friendship and thought he could broaden it to everyone ... and ... that's the kind of conceit that is tough for me to understand."
Continued Lauria, thinking like a Lombardi, "It's one thing for the rookies to have to go buy some Dunkin' Donuts, but to exploit something like that -- even though they might have the money -- it's one thing to make some rookie who has a big bonus go for coffee or breakfast for everyone, it's another to pay for a $25,000 bottle of wine. You're making fun of what this man received for all those years and years of labor. There's a difference between hate and disrespect and I think they've crossed that line.
"I don't think Coach Lombardi would've tolerated that."
Note: Dan Lauria played the legendary Lombardi in a Broadway play which ran from October 2010 to May 2011. The play and Lauria received wide critical acclaim. Lauria is now starring in 'The Christmas Story' being presented at the Wang Theatre in Boston.
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