Jonathan Martin did the right thing.
When the Miami Dolphins’ starting left tackle slammed his food tray down in frustration and abruptly left the facility’s cafeteria, and ultimately, the organization, he was doing the right thing.
When Martin drove to the gas station, bought a bottle of vodka that he did not drink, saw a movie, bought a sandwich and later checked himself into a hospital because he felt he was acting irrationally, he was doing the right thing.
The ensuing forest fire of debate and national scrutiny surrounding the Dolphins’ sudden bullying scandal was not Martin’s fault. He didn’t wish for any of that to occur. He had simply had enough, and finally decided to do something about it.
After reading snippets from the Wells Report, released last week after a months-long investigation into the Dolphins’ locker room, I was disturbed, but not entirely shocked. Because I knew, on a much lesser scale and for a much shorter amount of time, how it felt to be Jonathan Martin.
I was a late bloomer. I started high school as a 5-foot-7, 155-pound offensive lineman. I wasn’t much larger the next year, when the older, bigger and stronger players whooped me on in practice each day. I looked up to them, but it was the repeated teasing and insults from others (most of whom were actually career benchwarmers) that started to eat away at me.
I was raised to never let anyone’s opinions or actions affect me. My mother taught me from a young age that if you don’t let others affect you, if you don’t show any reaction, if they don’t get a rise out of you, they will eventually quit. As an elementary student, I was teased for having big ears and a cleft chin. My mom told me that it gave me character, and she was right—15 years later, most ladies dig my chin.
Instead of reacting negatively to insults and teasing, I killed them with kindness and indifference. It worked. They left me alone about it.
When high school came around and I was made fun of for various reasons—big ears again attracted insults, being called “Dobby” after the house elf from the Harry Potter series—as well as being small, I took the same approach. I laughed it off, or showed indifference. It worked for the most part, although the teasing and insults continued.
Then, one day, toward the end of my sophomore season, I exploded. I had had enough of the teasing and disrespect and went straight after one of the offenders in practice, throwing him down by the facemask and earning myself a two-lap sentence. They left me alone after that.
Six years later, I stand at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Some people would now refer to me as muscular. Those same individuals who pestered me daily now have mixed looks of surprise and fear when I see them.
Yeah, Dobby grew up.
I recall these experiences because when I read the Wells Report—specifically, the part about the text messages Martin sent his parents—I couldn’t help but sympathize with him.
Martin sent messages to his mother and father about his struggles with how he reacted to the locker room abuse he was subjected to on a daily basis. He felt there was something wrong with him; he was a pushover and couldn’t stand up for himself. He blamed the “soft schools” he attended that he felt made him weak. He cried in a rented yacht bathroom after getting harassed again by teammates.
I cried in my mom’s car once we arrived home after that late-season practice.
I encourage you to follow the first link and read through the abusive messages sent from abusive ringleader and teammate Richie Incognito to Martin about him and his family members. Only after reading them can a reader truly understand how mentally and emotionally eroding such behavior can be for one man.
On his last day as a Dolphin, Martin was harassed again in the cafeteria. This came after likely enduring more of the same verbal abuse in the locker room. He made a promise to himself that one more insult, one more joke, one more prank would be the last straw.
When the entire offensive line got up and left the table once Martin sat down to join them, he had had enough. He left. And after reading the recollection of the events, I couldn’t have been more proud of him.
It takes a lot for a man, especially of his size and strength, to not react in a rage-filled monsoon of physical assault. It takes a lot of control.
That same control had long been lost inside the Dolphins locker room.
Reading that offensive line coach Jim Turner had been in on the harassment directed toward not only Martin, but also additional unnamed players infuriated me. Football is a macho game, but does not need abusive, demeaning action taken toward others, especially own teammates. It takes a team effort to win games. A band of brothers forms an offensive line. Ribbing and joking happens everywhere, and often strengthens relationships. But this went way too far.
Any person with at least decent moral standing will know when and where to draw the line. It takes a man with courage to stand up and say “that’s enough.”
Cowards filled the Dolphins locker room. Turner, Incognito, fellow offensive lineman Mike Pouncey and anyone else involved in this deplorable behavior are cowards.
Incognito is now an unrestricted free agent. In my opinion, no team should even consider signing him. Turner should be fired immediately. Pouncey should be disciplined in a swift and effective manner. If I were in the Dolphins front office, I’d cut him. Immediately.
The culture of the Dolphins locker room needs permanently changed. Players from other teams took to Twitter to tell fans that these issues don’t exist in other places. If true, it needs to stay that way.
Martin didn’t do anything wrong. It was the rest of the Dolphins organization that did wrong, and needs to own up for it.