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Incognito versus Wooden: The Mythology of Ruthlessness

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From Coach John Wooden
Coach John Wooden
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"True success   can be attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing that you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of becoming ."   Coach John Wooden


The Myth of Ruthlessness


We all know the saying:   "Nice guys finish last."   We all feel the fear inherent in these words.   But is this assertion even accurate?    I say it is not and I have proof.

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ESPN writer Tim Keown expressed the current version of this mythology in his article entitled: "Failure lies with Dolphin Leadership."   In his article he states the current view as follows:

"Beneath the disgusting details of threats and taunts and racism lies an uncomfortable truth: The NFL needs Richie Incognito more than it needs Jonathan Martin.

Coaches love players like Incognito. They look at guys like Martin, known as soft-spoken and thoughtful while at Stanford, with skepticism. Does he have the killer instinct? Does he care enough? Those questions don't apply to Incognito. Coaches might not want to see him after hours, but they love him on the field. He's indispensable, a tone-setter, the guy who announces your team's presence with a crazed, through-the-whistle style that is prized at every level.

Coaches chuckle among themselves: He might be a horrible human being, but he's our horrible human being. Sociopathic behavior from players at certain positions is not only tolerated but cherished. As long as it stays out of the headlines and the police blotters -- in other words, as long as it's kept in-house -- it provides the kind of toughness you need to compete."



Richie Incognito  

November 4, 2013, Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely from the Miami Dolphins because of threats, taunts and racist comments he made to fellow teammate and offensive linemen Jonathan Martin.   Incognito is part of the Dolphins six-player leadership council.   Apparently, Incognito is the team enforcer.   He is the guy you go to when you want other teammates to "man-up."   He appears to be the soul of ruthlessness.

Keown described him as "indispensable", "a tone-setter", "the guy who announces your team's presence," and "crazed."   He said that this kind of guy is "prized" in football "at every level."    And even though his coaches and evaluators would describe him as a "horrible person" and even a "sociopath" he was "cherished" as a player because of what is viewed as his "toughness."

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Coach Joe Philbin tried to disavow Incognito's criminal behavior with this statement to the media quoted in the ESPN article:   "Martin Never Approached Joe Philbin:"

The usually docile Philbin became somewhat emotional while addressing the media Monday, taking the blame for the environment that was created in his locker room.

"I want you to know, as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, I am in charge of the workplace atmosphere," Philbin said. "Since April 10, 2012, when players first came here every decision I've made, everything we've done at this facility was done with one thing in mind: that is to help our players and our organization to reach their full potential. Any type of conduct and behavior that detracts from that objective will not be tolerated."

Anyone reading this quote should be a little amazed.   "Everything" they did was directed to help the players reach their full potential?   Really?   Then either they do not know what "full potential" means or he is not telling the complete truth.  

Coach John Wooden, Winning and Character     


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Eric Z. Lucas is an alumnus of Stanford University (Creative Writing Major: 1972-1975), the University of Washington (1981: BA English Literature and Elementary Education) and Harvard Law School, J.D. 1986. Since law school he has been a public (more...)

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