Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin: A tormented football life

Jonathan Martin despaired.

“I was sobbing in a rented yacht bathroom,” the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman wrote in a message to his mother after he was bullied last spring.

“I’m never gonna change. I got punked again today. Like a little b----. And I never do anything about it,” he said.

Remarkably personal and emotional, sentiments like these from Martin were laid bare Friday when the National Football League released its investigative report into the Dolphins bullying scandal, a point of departure for a national conversation about bullying, sports culture and depression.

Stubbornly silent through the scandal, Martin speaks as never before in the report. It draws on interviews and messages from Martin and others to show a side of football rarely written of, heard or seen on stage-managed shows like HBO’s Hard Knocks, which featured the Dolphins in 2012, Martin’s rookie season.

Martin’s writings are full of self-doubt, worry and sadness. He was trapped by multiple worlds: his depression, his expectations, racial identity, the testosterone-fueled code of NFL manliness and by his friendship with fellow lineman Richie Incognito, who paradoxically was Martin’s biggest torment.

“People call me a n----- to my face. Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person,” Martin wrote in an email to his father Clarence August “Gus” Martin on April 29.

“They say terrible things about my sister. I don’t do anything,” he continued. “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek.”

Martin lamented he lacked his dad’s “toughness.” But his father let Martin know that he, too, had been victim to slights.

“Just so you know, I punked out many times including over n-----. Also over just being black,” wrote the elder Martin, a Harvard-educated lawyer along with his wife, the mother of his son.

“Had 3 white boys outside of a bowling alley calling me n-----. I backed down,” he wrote his son. “Had a Harvard asshole talk about my suntan. I backed down. Just stay who you are.”

But Gus Martin also said he “learned” how to “pop a bully in his mouth” and kick him in the crotch.

Martin, however, felt he wasn’t wired to fight back like that.

“One day I want to disappear, travel the world, and hopefully find myself,” he once said.

His passivity ate him up inside and furthered his dysfunctional relationship with Incognito, which ended Oct. 28 when Martin stormed out of a Dolphins cafeteria after a prank and sought psychological help.

By then, Martin was taking medication for depression and had adopted a rescue dog for companionship.

Earning $4.5 million over four years to play the game he loved, Martin knew he was “living a dream.” The money and the game made more tolerable the taunts and harassment from Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry, fellow offensive linemen.

Players from other units appeared aware of some of the bullying of Martin. A few urged him to stand up to it as well.

A 6-foot-5-inch Stanford-educated Classics major, the 312-pound gentle giant felt isolated in the Animal House of an NFL locker-room. His private exchanges with his Harvard-educated parents were a constant reminder to Martin that it was OK to be who he was, even if some teammates called him “Big Weirdo.”

“A quiet guy, always reading books; that’s not common for a football player,” Pouncey said, according to the report written by independent investigator Ted Wells, an attorney.

“I’ve spent more and more time by myself, as I have felt increasingly different from people,” Martin wrote to his mother at one point. “Sometimes I very badly want to quit football, as I feel like it has ‘forced me’ to act a certain way, to hang out with certain people, & prevented me from fully taking advantage of the social and cerebral advantages of college & experiencing new things and meeting new people.”

His mother, Jane Howard-Martin, agreed that her son should associate himself with other people. She urged him to draw inspiration from the president.

“Look at Obama gentle but strong and powerful,” she wrote, “not a physical fighter you are more in his mold [than] in the mold of some of your teammates. But unlike Obama you have a dominating physical presence. You are just measured about when you use it. that is not being a p----. That is being smart.”

Martin felt unable to change the way he felt: “I’m a push over, a people pleaser. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, I always want everyone to like me. I let people talk about me, say anything to my face, and I just take it, laugh it off, even when I know they are intentionally trying to disrespect me.”

Her response: “This is where some professional help would be good. They can help you structure your thoughts. And that whole brain chemistry thing is real. You may need some additional serotonin,” she wrote.

“There are people in the world with their own insecurities and they tend to be bullies and confront people. Dealing with them can be a challenge,” she wrote. “I think the NFL has a disproportionate share of people who are obscure but masking it with aggression.”

But none seem like Incognito, who once earned the reputation of being the NFL’s dirtiest player.

Incognito was the ringleader who harassed Martin the most. And he didn’t limit his bullying to Martin, others said.

Along with other linemen wearing rising-sun bandanas, Incognito mocked a Japanese personal trainer on Pearl Harbor Day. Incognito reportedly called him a “chink” and a “North Korean” as well. Incognito ribbed another black player as a “spear chucker” and made “derogatory remarks about animal sacrifices to a Haitian trainer,” the report said.

“He is kind of a disease; he divides a locker room,” says Wells’ report, quoting a credible NFL player who also called Incognito “the kind of guy who has to be the alpha male.”

Incognito allegedly called Martin his “b----,” “ n-----,” “ninja,” “darkness” and a “stinky Pakistani.” Incognito explained to Wells that he draws a distinction between the use of the word “nigga” (which he said was acceptable) and “ n-----,” which Incognito denied saying.

Incognito, who didn’t always appear truthful with investigators, said he didn’t believe he was bullying Martin, who had gone along with it and was his friend.

“Martin explained that he deliberately cultivated a friendship with Incognito in part to gain acceptance on the offensive line as well as to reduce the insults streaming his way,” Wells wrote. “Martin claimed that there was a ‘good Richie’ —his friend—and also a ‘bad Richie’ — his abuser.”

Wells wrote that Incognito also demonstrated genuine affection for Martin.

They frequented strip clubs together. They talked about depression and medication.

Martin was prescribed the anti-depressant Lexapro, which initially appeared to benefit him.

“I’m not gonna be scared any more. This medicine is effective. Just had a ‘moment of Clarity,’” he wrote his mother. “I realized that I don’t like superficial Miami people. And that I wanna be really good at football. And that I need to find a girlfriend.”

But Incognito’s taunts were excessive and crude, and the linemen zeroed in on vulgar sexual references to Martin’s sister that appeared unbearable to him.

Martin dreaded a Las Vegas trip the linemen planned to take and initially delayed his arrival date. That led Incognito to respond in a text message that he’d beat up Martin and defecate in his mouth.

“Sounds like my kind of vacation,” Martin wrote back, calling Incognito “a bipolar psychopath.”

Martin ultimately didn’t go to Vegas. His teammates then fined him $10,000. Martin paid the outsized fine, even though he didn’t have to.

Under the linemen’s “kangaroo court” system, players were fined for “a variety of trivial and often sophomoric offenses, such as farting, arriving late for meetings, failing to provide candy, having ‘stinky dreads’ or wearing ‘ugly ass shoes,’” the report said.

They also assessed "Judas fines" for those who tell on others.

As the 2013 season started and the bullying continued, Martin’s depression and anxiety deepened. He didn’t say enough to management, in part because he didn’t want to be called a “Judas.”

Martin drank too much on occasion, may have used other undisclosed drugs and missed a team weightlifting session while inebriated after a loss, the report noted.

After another big Dolphins loss to where he played badly, Martin had had enough with the taunting. In the cafeteria, after he was verbally abused by Incognito, the offensive line all refused to sit with him.

He stormed out, didn’t return and checked himself into a hospital to seek mental help.

Incognito fined himself $200 for “breaking Jmart.”

He tried to reach Martin, who responded days later. In a text message, Martin told Incognito that he didn’t “blame you guys at all.” Within an hour, the gist of the messages was leaked to an reporter.

Martin said he felt Incognito had manipulated him. And soon, press reports circulated that identified Incognito as a bully.

Incognito sent Pouncey a text that bashed Martin and said “if Ur not with [u]s Ur against us.”

Pouncey: “No question bro he’s a coward for snitching.”

Incognito: “Snitches get stitches Blood in blood out...”

The rest of the team largely rallied around Incognito — not Martin. In a string of messages, an offensive line coach demanded Martin help clear Incognito’s name.

After the Dolphins issued a statement calling the bullying charges “speculation,” Martin’s representatives shared a voicemail message of Incognito calling him a “n-----.”

Incognito was soon suspended indefinitely.

Martin was long gone from Miami by then, fulfilling a fantasy that had been growing for some time.

“I really am getting increasingly tempted to just get in my car and leave Miami,” he wrote, “live by myself for months or a year or two off the grid.”

He has time. His contract with the Dolphins runs through 2015.

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