The Curious Case of Jonathan Martin
The first time I stood up to a bully was in fifth grade. How easy it was back then on the playground, a trip to the principal’s office my biggest concern.
And how hard it must be as an adult in the workplace, where the repercussions of standing up for yourself could be life changing or career altering. For Jonathan Martin, the NFL is not a “normal” workplace, it’s harsher, and takes place not just on the football field but in the locker room. In a job where physical and mental toughness are paramount, standing up to a bully is inherently delicate. Do you report the bully to your position coach or head coach, who might help you, but who could very well do nothing, viewing you as soft or weak? Do you resort to physical violence, which might get you injured, suspended, traded, cut, or vilified in the media?
To unpack the situation, the question we have to answer is this: Was Richie Incognito a bully, and did he bully teammate Jonathan Martin? After Martin’s departure and Incognito’s suspension in November, the NFL appointed attorney Ted Wells to conduct a thorough investigation of the Dolphins‘ locker room, submitting a 140 page report at the end of it. His response to the above question is somewhat measured – “To be candid, we struggled with how to evaluate Martin’s claims of harassment given his mental health issues, his possible heightened sensitivity to insults and his unusual, ‘bipolar’ friendship with Incognito.”
Wells discovered that there was in fact some type of friendship between Martin and Incognito, and Martin’s previous mental health issues further complicated his search for the truth. Still, his acknowledgment of the wrinkles in Martin and Incognito’s relationship serves as nothing more than a precursor to his clear-cut verdict: “Nonetheless, we ultimately concluded that Martin was indeed harassed by Incognito, who can fairly be described as the main instigator, and by [fellow offensive linemen] Jerry and Pouncey, who tended to follow Incognito’s lead.”
Spin it how you want – boys will be boys, every 20-something teases their friends, this is football – those are all classic straw man defenses. And they splinter under scrutiny, splinter when you consider that Incognito kept a “fines” notebook, in which he fined himself for “breaking Jmart,” fined Martin for acting like a “pussy,” and asked Pouncey and another lineman to destroy the notebook when he found out he was being suspended. At best, Incognito thought the notebook might be perceived as improper conduct towards Martin; at worst, Incognito knew what he was doing was wrong. Either way, it’s a damning move for a man claiming innocence.
Sadly, Martin wasn’t the only victim, with Wells’ report citing another player and an assistant athletic trainer. Tellingly, the Dolphins fired their offensive line coach and their head athletic trainer, who were both said to be complicit in the bullying. In the toxic locker room described in Wells’ report, where even his position coach couldn’t be trusted to help, it’s tough to believe that Martin could’ve kept his issues with Incognito within the team – after all, that’s where the poison resided.