An early May yacht party was no pleasure cruise for Jonathan Martin.
His teammates and so-called friends spent the day, as they had spent many, breaking him down — physically and emotionally. Martin was so humiliated and upset by the personal attacks, he went to the boat’s bathroom and sobbed.
Martin, the Dolphins’ offensive lineman, later told his mother, Jane Howard-Martin, what happened, texting her: “I got punked again today. Like a little b----. And I never do anything about it.”
This anecdote — and hundreds like it — convinced the NFL’s hand-picked investigator that Martin has been telling the truth all along.
Martin did indeed suffer more than a year of sustained emotional abuse at the hands of several Dolphins offensive linemen, who, when pressed by NFL investigators, later tried to downplay or even cover up their boorish behavior.
And those intensely personal taunts directly contributed to Martin’s decision to walk away from the team midway through the 2013 season.
That’s according to independent counsel Ted Wells, who released his exhaustive review of the team’s workplace-conduct scandal Friday. The 144-page report found Dolphins linemen Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry created a culture of harassment — and Martin wasn’t the only victim.
“In short, the treatment of Martin and others in the Miami Dolphins organization at times was offensive and unacceptable in any environment, including the world professional football players inhabit,” Wells wrote. “A young football player who has the skills to play at the highest level, and who also happens to be quiet and reserved, should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment from his teammates.”
Text messages sent from Martin to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins corroborate the left tackle’s account that the harassment at the hands of his teammates caused him “significant emotional distress.”
The report finds, however, that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.
The explosive — and some will say damning — report included the following bombshells:
• Three other past or current Dolphins players also were subjected to ridicule, as was an assistant athletic trainer, who was mocked because of his Japanese heritage.
• Incognito took off his shirt, pinned Martin down and punched him repeatedly at Pouncey’s Christmas party in late 2012.
• Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner not only knew about certain intrasquad hijinks but also was an active participant. He even bought Andrew McDonald, a former Dolphins player now with the Carolina Panthers, a male blow-up doll for Christmas in 2012 — a jab at McDonald’s sexual orientation. (McDonald, by all accounts, is heterosexual.)
• The offensive line had a fine system for behavior not considered appropriate for the group. After Martin left the team, Incognito “fined” him $1 million for being a “p-----.” When the Wells investigation first began, he asked his teammates to destroy the book, but they did not.
• Martin’s mother and sister were the subject of vile, over-the-top insults, with members of the offensive line regularly joking about having sexual relations with them in the most demeaning and explicit terms.
• Dolphins trainer Kevin O’Neill laughed along at some of these off-color jokes but also at one point pulled Martin aside and told him to stand up for himself.
• O’Neill and Turner never acted further on Martin’s behalf (i.e., taking the matter to coach Joe Philbin), allowing the behavior to continue.
• Incognito was apparently very comfortable using racial slurs. When he wasn’t using the N-word, he would speak in thinly veiled code. In a text conversation with an unnamed player, he joked that a .308 battle rifle was “perfect for shooting black people.”
Pouncey and Turner bent the truth — if not lied outright — to Wells and his staff when pressed about details that others had corroborated.
The final accusation could be the most damaging. The NFL has no tolerance for players or coaches who aren’t truthful with league investigators, as evidenced by the suspensions levied against the Saints in their bounty scandal.
“We appreciate the work of Ted Wells and his colleagues and the cooperation of the Miami Dolphins organization in the investigation,” the NFL said through a spokesman. “After we have had an opportunity to review the report, we will have further comment as appropriate.”
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said: “I now have had a chance to read the report and obviously, the language that was used and the behavior as described is deeply disturbing. ... We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another.’’
Ross said he has approached the New York University School of Law, the New York University Center for Sports and Society and the Jackie Robinson Foundation “on ideas to address my concerns about conduct in sports. I wanted to tackle these challenging issues head on and be a driving force for change not only with the Dolphins, but in all levels of athletics. In working with their research team and lawyers ... [we have] created a series of initiatives that we will release next week, along with a policy paper examining this issue.
“We seek to create a curriculum which emphasizes accountability and which educates athletes on a standard code of conduct, appropriate use of language and the elimination of disrespectful and unacceptable behavior in sports, including discrimination or harassment because of race, gender or sexual orientation. We are also exploring possible legislation and a conduct pledge that would be instituted in all organized sports throughout the country to elevate the core value of respect.’’
If there was any good news for the Dolphins, it was this: Wells found no evidence that Philbin or former general manager Jeff Ireland had any knowledge of their players’ behavior before Martin abruptly left the team on Oct. 28, 2013.
However, Philbin was made aware of Martin’s fragile mental condition last spring but never seriously followed up on the matter after suggesting he undergo counseling.
Wells makes clear that Incognito, the veteran offensive lineman with a history of erratic, violent behavior, was the ringleader and Jerry and Pouncey happily followed along. Incognito and Jerry will both be free agents next month; Pouncey is a team leader and one of its best players.
After the report was made public, Incognito’s attorney, Mark Schamel, released a statement saying the document was “replete with errors.”
When Martin left the team, he was struggling on the field and off it. He had been moved from left tackle to right after allowing six sacks in the season’s first six games.
Martin also confided in teammates during the 2013 offseason that he had suicidal thoughts, and texts have surfaced that suggest drug use.
Earlier in the week, Incognito tweeted that the truth would come out and “bury” Martin and his camp. On Friday, he had a far kinder message: “Pleeeeease Stop The Hate. Happy Valentines Day :)”
His language is considerably saltier in private, Wells determined. Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey regularly called Martin a “f-----,” a “c----,” a “p-----” and other less than endearing terms.
They would simulate having sex acts with Martin’s sister during pregame warmups, Wells found.
Pouncey flatly denied ever hearing anyone speak of having sex with Martin’s sister, a claim that Wells disputed, based on “overwhelming contrary evidence,” including text-message exchanges in which Pouncey participated.
The three aggressors, either together or independently, also targeted current Dolphins lineman Nate Garner and former teammates McDonald and Josh Samuda for abuse. Garner, Wells found, might have taken even more abuse than Martin, with Turner even apparently part of the piling on. Garner, however, suffered in silence.
McDonald, referred to as Player A in the report, had his sexual orientation questioned on a near-daily basis — by both his teammates, and apparently, his coach. Turner told Wells he had no recollection of buying McDonald a blow-up doll, a claim that Wells didn’t find credible.
Even members of the Dolphins’ staff were not immune. Naohisa Inoue, an assistant athletic trainer, was born and raised in Japan. Incognito would often pepper him with anti-Asian slurs and on the 61st anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Pouncey, Jerry and Incognito dressed up in Japanese headbands and threatened to injure Inoue in retaliation for the decades-old attack.
Many critics of Martin’s version of events question why he would remain friends with Incognito and others if they made him feel so worthless. Wells had that question, as well.
He did not report the harassment because he feared that doing so would further ostracize him from the offensive line group.
He was right. In text-message conversation between Incognito and Pouncey shortly after Martin left the team, his so-called friends were livid.
Incognito wrote: “F--- Jmart That f----- is never [allowed] back.”
Pouncey responded: “No question bro he’s a coward for snitching. ... He’s dead to me.”