The long and complicated tale of Jonathan Martin took a very interesting turn on the first night of the 2014 free agency run. As ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported, Martin was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional draft pick. The trade reunites Martin with Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach, who was Martin's head coach at Stanford.
“We feel that this move is in the best interests of all parties involved,” said Miami Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey in a statement. “We wish Jonathan well.”
But of course, that's not the primary angle here.
Martin left the Dolphins unannounced last Oct. 31, and later said that he had been bullied by several members of Miami's offensive line, most notably left guard Richie Incognito. In the sunsequent fallout, neither Martin nor Incognito played another down for the Dolphins. While Martin retreated to his family in California, Incognito went on a protracted media campaign in which he trumpeted his innocence in the matter.
“This isn’t an issue about bullying,” Incognito told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer in an exclusive interview on Nov. 10. “This is an issue of my and Jon’s relationship. You can ask anybody in the Miami Dolphins locker room, ‘Who had Jon Martin’s back the absolute most?’ and they’ll undoubtedly tell you [that it was] me. All this stuff coming out … it speaks to the culture of our locker room. It speaks to the culture of our closeness. It speaks to the culture of our brotherhood. The racism, the bad words … that’s what I regret most, but that is a product of the environment, and that’s something we use all the time.”
But according to an independent investigative report by attorney Ted Wells, the Dolphins had let a culture fester in which people like Incognito -- bullies who picked on teammates who were emotionally weaker -- were able to do what they did unchecked. Offensive line coach Jim Turner was painted as an accessory, and head coach Joe Philbin was made to look like a substitute teacher.
“After a thorough examination of the facts, we conclude that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman, whom we refer to as Player A for confidentiality reasons, and a member of the training staff, whom we refer to as the Assistant Trainer,” the report states near the beginning. “We find that the Assistant Trainer repeatedly was targeted with racial slurs and other racially derogatory language. Player A frequently was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching. Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”
The effect on Martin, according to the report, was quite severe.
“Martin came to view his failure to stand up to his teammates as a personal shortcoming. According to Martin, the mistreatment by his teammates and his inability to make them stop the insults drove him into depression and led him to contemplate suicide on two occasions in 2013. Martin noted that in his four preceding years at Stanford, before he arrived at the Dolphins, he had no significant issues with depression and experienced no suicidal thoughts.”
Martin was a standout for Harbaugh's Stanford teams from 2008 through 2010, and for David Shaw in 2011. Tagged as NFLDraftScout.com's fourth-ranked offensive tackle for the 2012 draft, Martin was selected in the second round by the Dolphins, and started all 16 games at tackle in his rookie campaign, allowing six sacks, four quarterback hits, and 47 quarterback hurries. In the seven games he played in 2013, he allowed seven sacks, seven hurries, and 15 hits.
The Wells Report also mentioned Martin's relationship with Harbaugh, and that Martin's old coach believed he could be successful.
“Jim Harbaugh, Martin’s former head coach at Stanford and the current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, told us that he had never doubted Martin’s tenacity, work ethic and dedication to the game, and that he had never seen Martin exhibit problems with social adjustment. Coach Harbaugh told us he believed that Martin likely could continue to have a successful career in the NFL. It appears that Martin was up to the challenge of dealing with physical or verbal intimidation by opposing players during NFL games, but fell victim, at least in part, to persistent taunting from his own teammates.
“Coach Harbaugh emphasized that he never doubted Martin’s physical or mental toughness, and he believes that Martin can continue to have a successful career in the NFL. Coach Harbaugh also said that the atmosphere in the Stanford locker room, in his view, was not materially different from that of the San Francisco 49ers’ locker room,”
But at the 2014 scouting combine, Harbaugh was typically tight-lipped about Martin.
"Well, I wasn't in the locker room there. I can't really comment on that. No, I have not spoken to him. I think you know what I think of the whole situation. It's pretty well documented in reports and I commented on it before." Now, Harbaugh will most certainly have to comment on it again. And Jonathan Martin gets what is almost certainly his best chance to stick and stay in the NFL.