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Martin's attorney suggests wide pattern of bullying in Miami

The SportsXchange

As the gritty details are revealed of controversial interaction between two very different NFL players, the natural tendency is to draw a line between right and wrong, guilty and innocent, good and bad.

And that is apparently the knee-jerk response by many upon hearing the details -- however limited at this point -- of the conflict between two Miami Dolphins offensive linemen -- ninth-year veteran guard Richie Incognito and second-year tackle Jonathan Martin.

Martin's family retained sports attorney David Cornwell, who aired the latest allegations -- including a teammate threatening to have unprotected sex with Martin's sister -- or torture and ridicule in his own locker room.

"Jonathan Martin's toughness is not at issue. Jonathan has started every game with the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in 2012. At Stanford, he was the anchor for Jim Harbaugh's "smash mouth" brand of football and he protected Andrew Luck's blind side," Cornwell said in a statement.

"The issue is Jonathan's treatment by his teammates. Jonathan endured harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing. For the entire season-and-a-half that he was with the Dolphins, he attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse with the hope that doing so would end the harassment. This is a textbook reaction of victims of bullying. Despite these efforts, the taunting continued. Beyond the well-publicized voice mail with its racial epithet, Jonathan endured a malicious physical attack on him by a teammate, and daily vulgar comments such as the quote at the bottom. These facts are not in dispute.

"Eventually, Jonathan made a difficult choice. Despite his love for football, Jonathan left the Dolphins. Jonathan looks forward to getting back to playing football. In the meantime, he will cooperate fully with the NFL investigation."

When correspondents from The Sports Xchange queried players from around the NFL, some of them questioned the reality of who did what to whom -- and implied that it is not clear how to assign right, wrong, guilt, innocence, good and bad in a case that may be more complicated than it seems.

NFL Network reported Thursday night that Martin used "equally explosive" language in conversations with Incognito.

Martin left the team last week after an incident, initially portrayed as a prank, in the team cafeteria in which he was lured to sit at a table with some teammates, who immediately departed for another table when he sat down.

After leaving the team, Martin checked into a Florida hospital, where he was visited by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. His parents then arrived and together they flew to the family home in Hollywood, Calif.

Incognito, one of the players involved in the incident and reportedly the instigator in a series of controversial attacks on Martin, was suspended indefinitely on Sunday by the Dolphins.

The smoking gun, as it were, in this insipid incident, is the voicemail of an Incognito call to Martin from last spring. Soon after it was revealed, not only was Incognito suspended, but it went viral on the internet. Although it was later learned that first version was not the complete recording, this part of Incognito's message immediately ignited a firestorm or response:

"Hey, wassup, you half (racial slur) piece of (expletive). I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. I'll (expletive) in your (expletive) mouth. I'm gonna slap your (expletive) mouth, I'm gonna slap your real mother across the face (laughter). (Expletive) you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."

Left off the first public version was Incognito adding in a light tone, "OK, call me back," which Martin reportedly did.

In simplest, and most convenient, terms, Incognito is portrayed as the brutish bully who has taken it upon himself to whip his easygoing young teammate into fighting shape so as best to hold up to the rigors of life in the NFL trenches.

Based on a lengthy history of controversial behavior, Incognito is an easy-to-condemn target. He was booted from two college programs, Nebraska and Oregon, for questionable behavior and after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2005, it took him only four years to be named the NFL's dirtiest player by The Sporting News.

By contrast, Martin's demeanor has always reflected that of his extremely politically correct familial background, which included parents -- Gus and Jane Howard Martin -- who both were Harvard educated and a great grandfather who was close to W.E.B. Dubois, co-founder of the NAACP and regaled by Martin Luther King as one of the most significant men in American history.

When Martin chose Stanford, officials at Harvard pointed out that he would have become the university's first, fourth-generation African-American student. Martin responded by saying he may still attend Harvard at some point and wanted to be a trial lawyer.

On the field, in practices and in the locker room, Incognito was well-known as a very physical, verbal, boisterous, imposing personality. Martin was reserved, thoughtful, quiet and sometimes almost withdrawn.

There are some who portrayed Martin as relatively innocent and naive.

And then there are some who question who is really naive here and whether anybody is really innocent. Based on comments by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Brian Hartline, the possible picture comes into focus of Martin setting up Incognito for a hard fall.

"If I'm not mistaken, this was the same guy who was laughing about the voicemail at one point in time," Hartline said of Martin. "Second of all, if you go through the whole voicemail, there are some things said that you probably shouldn't say in general, friends or not friends. But with that being said, I never thought it was a death threat. I never thought he was going to do the things he said.

"If you can't take validity from one part of the voicemail, how can you take validity from the whole -- you can't pick and choose which parts count and which parts don't. In my mind, I think it was something that was taken advantage of."

Hartline refused to clarify that last remark, but did repeat that the voicemail was being "passed around" at one point in time as a joke.

"I just remember I thought (the voicemail) was being passed around as a joke," Hartline said.

Hartline also echoed Tannehill's observations that he thought Incognito and Martin "were always playing around" and seemed to be friends.

"Whenever I saw Jon and hung out with Jon, it was usually with Richie because they were friends," Hartline said. "I've seen pictures of them on the plane playing around. They were always playing around. The O-line as a group was a big family."

Omar Kelly of the Florida Sun-Sentinal, who covered the Dolphins in 2012, reminds that depicting the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Martin as a meek man doesn't fit with that the first training camp fight of 2012 was started by Martin, a rookie, taking on 6-3, 305-pound, ninth-year veteran defensive end Randy Starks, known to be very aggressive.

"Martin could take care of himself. He didn't need anybody to take care of him," Kelly said.

Like Hartline, Kelly is openly curious about the entire series of events and the timeline.

Immediately after Martin left the team on October, it was suggested that he might be placed on the non-football illness" list. If that happened, he would forfeit his pay, which would be about $35,700 a week based on his $607,000 base contract this year. But after Philbin visited Martin in the hospital and heard the voicemail, it put the coach and the team in a compromised position.

It may be significant to note that Martin was not placed on NFI and is still receiving his pay.

Based on suggestions that the conflict between players was more than a year old, was their concern that the team and the coaching staff were complicit? If so, not only would they be on the hook for paying that salary, but perhaps even more based on harm to his professional reputation and ability to maintain his career.

It is also beyond interesting to note that Dolphins players unanimously refuse to agree Incognito's actions, although objectionable, was the only factor in play.

Martin had a hard time playing right tackle last year and was having an even rougher go of it after being moved to left tackle this year to replace Jake Long, who left the team as a free agent.

No Dolphins player denied that Incognito was in character as he took it upon himself to get Martin to work harder, play better. The voicemail, in fact, was made during a time when the team was concerned that Martin was not taking part in OTAs.

Hartline questioned "why does somebody keep 75 voicemails for months?"

And there are other questions. Can Martin at once be portrayed as an extremely smart, well-educated man who someday wants to be involved in the very contentious world of trial law, and also be the meek manchild who is vulnerable to being bullied by a brash teammate?

Now that Martin has retained attorney David Cromwell -- a heavyweight in matters involving player rights -- that line between right and wrong, guilty and innocent, good and bad, does not seem as distinct.

After all, Martin's long-term goal was to become a trial lawyer. And, with a major legal battle brewing, the question may be: who did what to whom?

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