How the NFL pregame shows handled Richie Icognito and CTE

The big stories in the National Football League over the last week were the Richie Icognito-Jonathan Martin bullying incident and the evidence of CTE found in Tony Dorsett and other retired players. Both stories warranted discussions on the Sunday NFL pregame shows. With CBS, CBS Sports Network, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports 1, NBC and NFL Network all devoting time to the NFL on Sunday, let's see how they handled the big elephants in the room in Week 10.

NFL NETWORK

With two pregame shows and six hours to fill, NFL Network had plenty of time to broach the Richie Icognito-Jonathan Martin situation. Not only was the story discussed on NFL GameDay First which airs at 7 a.m. ET, but also during NFL GameDay Morning which began at 9 a.m. ET. Here are some of the quotes from yesterday's shows:

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Sterling Sharpe: “For [the Dolphins players] not to mention Jonathan Martin – the fact that he left the team, the fact that all of this may have been going on – I thought that was probably the most telling thing we have gotten throughout this entire ordeal…It tells me that basically the locker room is trying to police itself, and that is whatever happens in that locker room stays in that locker room.”

Shaun O'Hara: “Nobody is talking about the fact that he was basically benched from his left tackle position. They just traded for Bryant McKinnie two weeks before this situation happened and I have to believe [that had an affect].” 

Here are excerpts from this locker room culture discussion from NFL GameDay Morning: 

Kurt Warner: “Every locker room I’ve been in, there are those players that are like the parents; they let people know when they step out of line, they let people know when it’s gone too far. That to me is the most surprising situation about this. I hear other players talking and they felt like everything was OK, that everything was normal and that’s the surprising part to me.”

Marshall Faulk: “This is not hazing. This is disrespecting another man.”

Michael irvin: “You have to have a sense of caring about a person and want the best to come out of them, and there is nothing that I’ve heard that Richie Incognito said towards Jonathan Martin that will help in any way better his person.” 

Warren Sapp gave some interesting insight on riding Keyshawn Johnson during their time together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and on playing against Richie Incognito. 

NFL Network's insiders Ian Rapoport and Michael Silver also chimed in: 

Ian Rapoport:“I would expect the league based on what I’m hearing to take a hard, long look at this hazing issue with the possibility of coming up with an anti-hazing policy. Something specific to spell out the gray areas and allow players to know what is acceptable and what is not.”

Mike Silver:“Jeff Ireland, the general manager, and head coach Joe Philbin in league circles are not expected to survive this. Jeff Ireland already has a reputation in league circles for being a guy who, ‘We can’t believe he still has his job.’ They’re 4-4 but there is clearly a leadership void here. Expect somebody to pay.”

There was extensive discussion on Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin, but none on CTE. 

CBS/CBS SPORTS NETWORK

The CBS/CBS Sports Network combo also has two shows, That Other Pregame Show on CBSSN and the venerable NFL Today on the CBS Mothership. "TOPS" airs for four hours from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. ET with the NFL Today hitting the air at noon ET.

Both shows devoted heavy amounts of time to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation. The NFL Today spent its entire first block to the story. The most emotional of the NFL Today panel was Shannon Sharpe.

Bill Cowher also had this exchange with Sharpe:

Bill Cowher: I think the thing that happens as a coach is you are a father. You're a mentor. You have brought together a bunch of people from different places, different races, different values, and what you have to explain to people is I can't change you, but I have to respect you. And Incognito can't. If he wants to make Jonathan Martin tougher, let the coaches do that. We have to have people inside there. Let the players play. You can't change people.  You can only try to influence them. I spent my first two or three years with the Pittsburgh Steelers trying to create trust, accountability, commitment.  And in doing that I had to make sure those players knew I cared about them. And, because they won’t care until they know you care. So I spent time. I wanted to know how they were doing with their families. How they were doing personally, because if they're not doing well at home, they're not going to do well on the field. When we came in, we were a family. Sometimes you have little squabbles.  You have to intervene, take control of the situation. Pull them aside, and you know what, I said that, if that bothers you, I don't think it's right. I'm sorry.  Because if it offended you, I'm wrong.

Sharpe: Any workplace environment, be it locker room or at CBS, the first thing you have in any code, any ethos is respect. Because if you don't have that, you're going to have problems later. And this is what it's gotten to.

Cowher: If anything comes out of this, we've gone to a third party on the sidelines with concussions. Because in this social media world we're in, in the transparent world we're in, maybe it's time we bring a third party into every building, an HR (Human Resources) department where any player or coach can go to if they feel like the situation is one that they cannot work in. So I think unfortunately, we've come to this world – you have to be proactive. Let's not wait until another situation comes. You have to be forward thinking. You have to be proactive. I know the Commissioner will do something like this. We've done this with concussions.  We've done this with everything else. And again, what happened in this case to me, the cover-up was worse than the crime itself…

On That Other Pregame Show, Bart Scott was quite outspoken on Incognito's behavior.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=jqUIGBuKwRE?rel=0

That Other Pregame Show host Adam Schein asked former Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask what is next for Jonathan Martin.

Good on the CBS combo for discussing the Incognito-Martin story at length, but there was no time devoted to CTE.

FOX/FOX SPORTS 1

Fox had the scoop of the week with Jay Glazer's interview with Incognito. Fox Sports 1's Fox Football Sunday kept previewing the interview that would air on Fox NFL Sunday on the Fox Mothership.

This is what aired on Fox NFL Sunday:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=XGYNf0oMQ5s?rel=0

Fox has just released a longer version of the interview. This does not contain the heavy edits that appeared on Fox NFL Sunday.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=lTqT9wHAq3s?rel=0

The interview led to this discussion on Fox NFL Sunday.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=2wNeY_pJj4M?rel=0

Kudos for Fox NFL Sunday for landing the big interview with Incognito. However, there was no mention of the CTE news, however, Fox did have time for its weekly Rob Riggle comedy segment.

NBC

Football Night in America had the luxury of reacting to the day's news and the Icognito interview on Fox. Mike Florio, Peter King, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Cris Collinsworth and Scott Pioli all reacted to the news.

Mike Florio: “In his interview, Incognito said that in the week before Martin left the Dolphins, Martin texted to Incognito, ‘I will kill your whole effing family.’ Incognito also said that he did not take that seriously. Since that interview aired, David Cornwell, who represents Jonathan Martin, provided some additional context. The actual text message, which was not a message that was typed by Martin, was a photo [which was shown on air] with the message as a caption, which was then forwarded to Incognito, by Martin.”

Peter King: “Roger Goodell has given independent investigator, Ted Wells, all the time he needs to get this report done and to shine a light on the Miami Dolphins. But I’m told it should probably take about three or four weeks.  The big factor in the Wells report is that Roger Goodell is going to make it totally public. All facts will be known to the general public. The NFL feels like, if you’re going to shine a light on this, you’ve got to be completely transparent.”

Florio: “As to the suspension of Richie Incognito, I’m told that it is indefinite. But under the labor agreement, the maximum he can be suspended is four weeks. That means as of December 1, after the Dolphins play the Jets, the Dolphins either have to bring Incognito back or cut him.”

King: “Will Richie Incognito be so radioactive that no one will give him a job? I’m told that there is at least one team, a contending team, that will be interested in Incognito’s services… if he becomes a free agent down the stretch.” 

Florio: “As to Jonathan Martin, it looks unlikely that he will play for the Dolphins or anyone else this year. It will be after the current season that we’ll know whether or not Jonathan Martin returns to Miami, or ends up playing for someone else.”

Hines Ward: “It’s an unfortunate situation. Being biracial myself, I understand Jonathan Martin, because I had to deal with some of those same issues growing up. As a child, I was bullied and discriminated against because I was of mixed race. I heard some of the guys throughout the league say that Jonathan Martin should be a man and fight back. But for me it takes a bigger man to walk away from the situation. I don’t know about you Cris, but in the locker room we don’t play with the N word. When a guy calls another man of the opposite race the N word, there are no more games being played.”

Cris Collinsworth: “I’ll say this. I’ve heard the word. I’ve never heard it coming from a white player to a black player, or a white player to a white player. It is a given, using that word is a no-no.”

Collinsworth: “This story is still unraveling. To me, there is something missing. This doesn't happen in the NFL without some missing piece of this puzzle, and I’ve heard a lot of guesses as to what that missing piece may be. I don’t think anyone should speculate. We need to let the investigation take place, and we’ll go from there.”

Rodney Harrison: “When I heard the story, the first thing I thought about was the lack of leadership in the Miami Dolphins locker room…. In a locker room, the leaders try to keep everything in-house. They don’t allow issues to get out to the media. They don’t even allow items to get to the head coach. And when something escalates, when the situation escalates, you try to diffuse the situation by communicating to both parties. If that does not work, then you go to the head coach and you let him handle the situation.”

Tony Dungy: “Player leadership is so important. People are asking me, how Joe Philbin could not know what was going on in that locker room? Well, as a head coach, you don’t know everything. My job was to set the atmosphere up, and I counted on my leaders. So, if I said no hazing in the locker room, then it was up to Derrick Brooks, Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne, and those types of guys to control it. If there was a problem, then they would come to me. If they were not saying anything, then I assumed that everything was fine.”

Scott Pioli: “When you have stable leadership in your locker room, it’s a lot easier to consider or even bring in a player that has a checkered past, or has historical problems. When you have a guy like Rodney (Harrison) in the locker room, you can certainly bring in a Corey Dillon or bring in a Randy Moss. However, if the player in your locker room is a player with a past like Richie Incognito, and that’s the loudest voice with the greatest presence in your locker room, there is a chance it can crash and burn.”

A good discussion on the Incognito-Martin, but as with the other shows, still no mention of CTE.

ESPN

ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown broached locker room culture. Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter took the lead on the discussion. Keyshawn Johnson discussed what he experienced with Warren Sapp in the Buccaneers locker room. 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=UubN03ZwFsY?rel=0

A good open discussion on the issue. 

And Countdown was the only show to broach the CTE issue with the older gentlemen on the panel, Mike Ditka and Tom Jackson discussing the consequences of getting old.

Mike Ditka: “Football is a violent sport. When heads hit, things happen. When the brain bleeds, you’ve got a problem. That’s what is happening.”

Tom Jackson: “I’ve got to speak personally here. Do I get depressed? Yes. What part of it plays out because of my activities in the NFL? I don’t know. My legs go numb. They did this week about six times. You’ve (Chris Berman) seen it and you’ve helped me with it. There are times that I cannot walk. The artificial hip, the artificial left knee, the pain in the shoulder, all of those things are part of what I did. I will not trade a second of it. I loved what I did in the National Football League. But for me, and many others like me, payment is going to come due. He is 59, Tony Dorsett, I am 62. Payment is coming due for our experiences in the National Football League.”    

Mike Ditka: “I think I’m fine, I don’t know. I get forgetful at tmes. Tom (Jackson) said it, ‘I wouldn’t give anything up for what I had.’ If this is what is going to happen to me in the end of my life, fine. My enjoyment I got competing on the football field playing for the Bears and the Cowboys was the ultimate to me.”

While it wasn't as extensive as the Incognito-Martin discussions, ESPN has to be given credit for broaching a subject which has quite sensitive to the NFL. Will the other pregame shows bring up CTE as other prominent retired players are tested positive for it? One would think they would have to. For now, the networks are mostly ignoring the issue.

Some good discussion on locker room culture. The networks get a collective B for their handling of the issue. As for CTE, the networks get a collective D minus. We'll see how they continue to report two stories that will continue to dominate the league in the coming days and weeks. 

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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