Before the blow-up, Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin was brainy, brawny ‘nerd’

11/19/2013 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 6:57 PM

LOS ANGELES -- Everyone knew Jonathan Martin as “Moose” at Harvard-Westlake, an elite prep school for the children of Los Angeles’ corporate and entertainment executives that is perched among the pines of Coldwater Canyon. Martin, a 6-foot-5 football star, reflexively bent over to hug classmates upon greeting them. When he wasn’t flattening opponents with pancake blocks, he played the viola, which looked like a toy in his large hands.

“Jonathan was by far the biggest man on campus, but he was also a big puppy,” said Dave Levy, offensive coordinator for the football team. “Not a jokester, and a bar fight wouldn’t be his style. He was an achiever, as is each student here. He was a serious kid, but he always had a smile on his face and was a friend to all.”

Martin, who attended a private elementary school in Bel-Air and was raised in a neighborhood known as the “Black Beverly Hills” by Harvard-educated parents, grew up in a lush world of privilege and propriety. The Miami Dolphins locker room, where Martin said he was bullied, insulted and harassed during his first two seasons as a pro, must have seemed like an inferno.

Martin majored in classics at Stanford, and his bulk belied the poetry in his soul, but he should not have been ostracized just because he didn’t fit the NFL stereotype, his friends said.

“You can love literature and be a very tough football player,” said Andrew Phillips, a Stanford teammate. “You can be a smart athlete. That doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.”

Martin, 24, fled the Dolphins after a lunchroom prank sent him over the edge on Oct. 28 and returned home, where he has been receiving treatment for depression. Ted Wells, appointed by the NFL to investigate whether the crass culture created an unbearable workplace, arrived in Miami on Monday to question players and coaches, including the suspended Richie Incognito, who has been portrayed as the main perpetrator of Martin’s abuse.

Martin talked with Wells for seven hours on Friday, but has not publicly aired his side of the story. He has turned down interview requests, including one from Oprah Winfrey, pending completion of the investigation.

Daunting standards

Incognito, who nicknamed his introspective, intellectual offensive line mate “Big Weirdo,” would be the oddball at Harvard-Westlake, where both the $32,500 tuition and standards for admission are daunting. Nearly a third of graduates go on to Ivy League colleges or Stanford, which was Martin’s choice in 2008.

The rigorous curriculum and high expectations led to a spike in mental health dropouts, which the school is addressing with a Workload Committee and a survey of stress levels. Opportunities abound for the student body, which is 78 percent white or Asian, 8 percent black and 8 percent Latino. There are trips to Rwanda, Spain, China or California ski slopes; visiting lecturers on ancient papyri or Shakespeare; internships at Loyola Law School; art tutoring at inner city schools; Drama Lab plays; high-tech science center; a marathon reading of Moby-Dick; 28 sports, including fencing and equestrian, and an award-winning newspaper, which featured a story headlined “Martin ’08 leaves NFL team, sparks national bullying debate” in its November issue.

Tacked to bulletin boards are signs that read “Ethics: Obedience to the Unenforceable” or “From Caring Comes Courage” or an article entitled “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality.” The school motto, Possunt Quia Posse Videntur, means “They can because they think they can.”

Among the alumni of Harvard-Westlake — separate boys’ and girls’ schools merged in 1991 – are actors Mark Harmon, Shirley Temple, Candice Bergen, Jon Lovitz, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, astronaut Sally Ride, swimmer Dara Torres, basketball-playing twins Jason and Jarron Collins, philanthropist and film producer Steven Bing and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Martin thrived as a quiet captain of the team, according to teammates. They enjoyed cutting their own hip-hop CDs, eating at In-N-Out Burger, celebrating homecoming week with funky haircuts, lifting in the weight room. During dreaded workouts on the hill behind the school, Martin chugged up the path behind teammates.

“I remember him from when he was a lumbering kid with a big, goofy afro,” said friend Terry O’Neal. “He really grew into himself and got ambitious about football, even though Harvard-Westlake set us up for any career option we wanted to pursue.”

O’Neal played football at UCLA for two years before leaving the team, partly because he got tired of being teased for “not being black enough.” In the voicemail that set off the entire bullying imbroglio, Incognito called Martin a “half-n-----” – which Incognito said was a term often used in brotherly jest. Martin, in fact, sent Incognito a text saying he didn’t blame him, but that the locker room culture “got to me a little.” Dolphins players have said Incognito, 30, who is white, was considered “an honorary black man.”

“I was a target and experienced some resentment of the way I carried myself, talked, and dressed,” said O’Neal, an investment banker. “Jonathan faced the same kind of alienation. Not everyone reacts well to the fun and games from the guys locked into this machismo culture. Why should we be made to feel ashamed about our background when we worked hard and our parents worked hard to get where we are?”

O’Neal said Martin’s parents, both lawyers, never taught him to retaliate. Martin’s father, Clarence Augustus “Gus” Martin, is associate dean of the College of Business Administration and Public Policy at Cal State-Dominguez Hills. Martin has also relied on the expertise of his mother, Jane Howard-Martin, general counsel at Toyota who has specialized in employment law, such as sexual harassment and disability cases. She once investigated a restaurant in Washington, D.C., for refusing to allow blacks to work outside the kitchen. In a 2002 USA Today essay headlined “Stop workplace harassment in your company,” she wrote that “a policy against harassment is not valuable unless employees believe it will be enforced.”

Words, not fists

Martin’s maternal great-grandfather, John Fitzgerald, graduated from Harvard in 1924 and was friends with W.E.B. DuBois, the trailblazing author, historian and civil rights activist, when black students were not allowed to sleep in campus dorms. Martin would have been Harvard’s first fourth-generation African-American student had he picked it over Stanford. He’s said he wants to attend Harvard law school when his football career ends.

“His family uses words, not fists,” O’Neal said. “Moose was taught to use reason in the tradition of Martin Luther King. He was taught the Harvard-Westlake way, the Stanford way.”

In Miami, misery and pressure squeezed Martin like a vise. He missed two days of spring practice because he was depressed and needed treatment, which the Dolphins helped provide for him, said an associate of Martin who did not want his name used. Bullying by teammates continued with constant verbal jabs, a vulgar reference to his sister and a “malicious physical attack,” said Martin’s lawyer, David Cornwell. As the season progressed, the offensive line was lambasted for allowing a record-pace number of sacks of Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins lost four games in a row, and Martin was switched to another position with the signing of Bryant McKinnie. After he left, he checked himself into a medical facility for a few days.

Given Martin’s analytical, introverted nature, and the suffering he endured, he likely felt he had no other recourse, said Monica Wofford, author of Make Difficult People Disappear and CEO of Contagious Companies.

“Martin is Mother Teresa and Richie is Mike Tyson in terms of conflict resolution,” Wofford said. “These are hard-wired personalities. Richie is an outgoing, aggressive, appreciation-seeking guy who tried to turn Martin into something he is not. Martin is the type who wants to get everything right, so he sucks it in, stuffs his emotions away and gets labeled the weak pantywaist.

“There needed to be mutual acceptance of differences. We often marry our opposite, and marriages aren’t always doomed. Neither of these men had the emotional maturity or tools to mediate in that very insensitive NFL environment.”

Martin retreated home to Ladera Heights, where he grew up on a tranquil street of 1960s-era homes distinguished by exquisite topiary. Neighbors say the Martins were polite to an almost formal degree but not gregarious.

“They might come to the annual block party, and Jonathan would always say hello when he walked the dog, but mostly they kept to themselves, and seemed busy with jobs and school,” said Frances Stoeckl, who has lived there for 38 years. “It’s a shame such a nice family has to be dragged into this mess.”

The Martins’ straw-colored ranch has a sale contract pending for $1.1 million. Realtors were in and out Friday, and Stoeckl hasn’t seen the Martins’ cars there for days. Camera crews that were camped out on the lawn have left. Martin was last seen at the house when he drove off to watch Harvard-Westlake’s final game of the season.

He reappeared in town Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum, standing on the Stanford sideline during USC’s 20-17 upset of the Cardinal. He was caught on camera wearing a black cap backwards, texting and grinning. TV commentator Brent Musberger said: “Big fella needs to go back to work someplace.”

Before the game, USC fans waved sarcastic signs, such as: “Jonathan Martin whines more than Taylor Swift,” and “Jonathan Martin thought my other sign was too mean!!!” and “Incognito for pledge trainer.”

But Stanford alumni at the game supported Martin, pointing out the irony of the image of him as bullying victim with his reputation as an anchor of a gritty, overpowering, smash-mouth style of play implemented by Coach Jim Harbaugh that elevated a mediocre program to No. 3 in the nation in 2011. Martin was left tackle bodyguard for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and blocker for running back Toby Gerhart.

“Soft is the last word you would use,” said Edward Conger, an engineer from Sunnyvale. “Martin mowed people down. Harbaugh knew he could recruit burly nerds. He proved that brain schools can win.”

Winning with class, however, is important at Stanford. Conger and friends Andy Eiser and Dan Kostel applauded when a Stanford defensive back shook the hand of a USC receiver he had just clobbered.

“I think it’s great that a former Stanford player could be the one to lead a revolution for change in NFL culture,” said Eiser, an editor at The Hollywood Reporter. “People have seen the ugly side of it, and they think it’s archaic.”

At Stanford, Martin added 40 pounds to increase his weight to 302. He excelled in a program that emphasized a balance between academics and athletics. He fit right in among the strivers in affluent Palo Alto.

Phillips persuaded him to major in classics. They studied Homer, Herodotus, Virgil. They wrote papers on Greek art, mythology, origins of political thought.

“We’d do Latin problem sets after practice, while the mechanical engineering majors had to make a robot that sank a basket and celebrated,” Phillips said. “It was a demanding, enriching environment. We enjoyed the storied nature of classics, the idea that hundreds of years ago people were thinking about the same immortal questions on life, love and conflict.”

Professor Jennifer Trimble taught Martin in an eight-person seminar on ancient Roman slavery and remembers him vividly.

“Even when discussions got heated and opinions really differed, Jonathan always heard people out with respect and attention,” she said. “At the same time, he never hesitated to speak his own mind and offer a different perspective. He did this so thoughtfully, and with such force of presence and character, that people really listened to him and often changed their minds as a result. I’ve never seen an undergraduate, before or since, show such effective personal leadership.”

Professor Richard Martin remembers Martin’s sense of humor, and likes to think Martin’s studies “did something to form him, and even reinforce his considerable backbone in his current situation.”

Martin decided to turn pro after his junior season, was drafted 42nd and signed a four-year, $4.8 million contract with the Dolphins. To prepare for the NFL, Martin came home every summer and trained at Harvard-Westlake. Levy worked with him refining the special skills required of offensive lineman — keen balance, hand and arm technique with lightning assessment of the defensive line’s movements.

“O linemen don’t have beautiful bodies but they tend to be the most intelligent, cohesive unit on the team,” Levy said. “No coach wants a dumb thug up front.”

Levy said he only observed benign teasing during his years as an NFL assistant and can’t imagine Martin’s Dolphin coaches were unaware of his torment.

“I can picture Jonathan in the orchestra room, towering over the other students,” Levy said. “Then he gave up music to focus on football. For him to walk away from his dream, to be driven away from his dream, must mean that he was at the breaking point.”

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service