Richie Incognito's return to the NFL has touched nerves all across the country. But in Buffalo, which the lineman now calls home, his presence has set off both outrage and discomfort about the message it sends to the surrounding community.
Incognito is so polarizing in Buffalo because the community was recently in the national spotlight for a teen suicide driven by years of homophobic bullying and abuse from his peers. Jamey Rodemeyer hanged himself in September 2011, and his story became the driving force behind anti-bullying PSAs across the United States.
More than three years later, the community has not fully recovered. Bullying remains a sensitive subject. And Incognito is bullying's poster-boy in sports after former teammate Jonathan Martin outed him to the country for the abuse he was dishing out.
As that story developed, Jamey's father, Tim Rodemeyer was watching. As The Buffalo News recently explained, Tim watched with the painful realization that bullying is not isolated to teenagers -- anyone can do it.
Tim is a Buffalo Bills fan. As one might expect, Incognito's signing brings a mix of emotions. New coach Rex Ryan has pledged to "build a bully" in Buffalo, but that's not the type of mindset Tim would like the team to see.
As he explained to the News, he understands the rationale behind bringing Incognito onto the team. He just hopes things are different now.
“I just hope he’s turned over a new leaf,” Tim told the News. “You have to be concerned with his pattern of behavior, but it’s a team trying to win. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.
“But if something else happens, they better get rid of him. I would not be happy if they kept him.”
Tim's hope is that the Bills will use Incognito's presence as an opportunity. Opening a dialogue and using Incognito to drive anti-bullying PSAs could be a step in that direction.
But if Incognito is the same old bully, he might find himself at odds with the city of Buffalo.